From Anger to Advocacy

My role as a social worker is to give naloxone to active opioid users and to advocate for the rights of drug users. Naloxone is a drug that reverses an opioid overdose, effectively saving the person’s life. There are many times I find myself in rooms speaking with law enforcement, city officials, agency personnel, and community members about the current opioid epidemic plaguing our communities. Substance users are largely stigmatized and discriminated against and this stigma presents itself in these meetings.

The latest incident was during a Crisis Intervention Training with law enforcement officers. While talking about my position and the need for community naloxone programs, an officer told me that we should not give out naloxone because it encourages the drug users to keep overdosing over and over again. The implied message is that drug users should die of overdose when there is a lifesaving medication available to them. Being a person in long term recovery and someone whose life was saved by naloxone multiple times, I became furious with the implication. How dare this law enforcement officer tell me that the lives of substance users do not matter, that my life does not matter.

However, as a social worker, I had to maintain a professional role. I had the choice of getting angry with him or using the skills I had learned in my community interventions class. I calmly looked at the law enforcement officer and told him that people do recover if they are given that chance and that I was living proof. Naloxone gave me a chance to regain my life where I am now an asset to my family and community in many different capacities. My story is not special. I know hundreds of others with a similar story. We then had a dialogue where I was able to share this with him and it may have changed his attitude. Since this negative stigma is a common sentiment with many folks, I expect to run into this kind of interaction again. I will share the same message with them instead of reacting with anger.

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