Hi everyone! Again, or for the first time, I’m Grace and I’m the new Americorps VISTA at BCJC. I’ll be writing blog posts bi-weekly on various topics related to Restorative Justice and our work here at BCJC. Here are my four takeaways from the talks given by various organizations on the opioid crisis:
We Can’t Arrest, Hate, or Institutionalize Our Way Out of This Crisis
This was a notion that was impressed upon by all of the facilitators and speakers during the talks. Treating people with force- throwing them out of buildings or businesses or kicking them off the streets and into the jail cell- just doesn’t work. In true restorative fashion, both the police and the hospital have a no arrest policy for those who call 911 and are admitted to the hospital because of an overdose through a Good Samaritan law passed in 2013. Instead, those admitted to Brooks Memorial Hospital will have access to a Recovery Coach from Turning Point (there is one stationed in the emergency room 24/7), harm reduction training put on by the hospital, and information on how to be admitted to the HUB at the Brattleboro Retreat. This system, in part, is thanks to the work done by Project CARE, a collective of organizations that was put together by the Brattleboro Police Department in response to their realization that arresting those experiencing substance use disorder, one more time for emphasis, just doesn’t work.
Community Members Are Part of the Solution
There’s a ton that those in the community that aren’t experiencing substance use disorder can do. One of the first things you can do is familiarize yourself with the signs of an opioid overdose and the administration of NARCAN. This was a 20-minute presentation, so I won’t try to explain it all here. I’ve included links in the resource section with more information, but the main things to look for in an overdose are blue fingernails and lips, slow or stopped breathing, and that the person is unresponsive. Try to wake them up by rubbing your knuckles into their sternum before resorting to the administration of NARCAN.
Second, you can change the way you talk and think about people who are experiencing substance use disorder. At the talks, another thing that was frequently brought up was the stigma that is associated with substance use, and how this creates barriers between people and recovery. So, instead of “addict” you could use “person with substance use disorder,” instead of “oh, don’t worry, she’s clean” use “she’s currently not using substances,” avoid the use of the word “abuse” all together if you can. The first two are examples of person-first language, which is one of the main tactics of the project to de-stigmatize substance use disorder. I’ve included more on this in the resource section.
Finally, do your best to humanize those living with substance use disorder. This can be done with the use of person-first language, making eye contact with those on the street that you might think are experiencing the disorder, and reading/hearing stories of recovery. An opportunity to do this is coming up with “A Beautiful Journey: Stories of Recovery” October 3rd at the Latchis Theatre where people in recovery share their stories, and how you, as community members, can support them.
COSU’s 9 Themes
The Windham County Consortium on Substance Use (COSU) presented at the Wednesday talk and gave 9 themes that they gathered from 30 forums and focus groups they conducted throughout the county centered around the crisis. Here they are:
Full Community Approach Needed
See section above.
This is a complex issue. Throughout their research, COSU has found that a combination of racism, poverty, lack of housing, isolation, and other issues came together to create this crisis.
Stigma and Discrimination
A lot of people expressed that they were discriminated against when applying for housing, jobs, and essential life needs because of their past substance use. We must make society “recovery-ready” so that those who have been helped and are ready to re-integrate into the community can do so.
Harm Reduction and Safe Use
It’s important to meet people where they are at. This came up during Turning Point’s talk as well, as they would literally meet people where they were at with recovery resources by taking to the street. People with substance use disorder need a supportive community and safe ways to use while they are using so that we can keep people alive until they can be treated. Research has shown that harm reduction shortens the period of active use.
Insufficient housing and transportation are issues that contribute to the opioid crisis. Project CARE received a grant from United Way to provide people with transportation to recovery programs, but this is only one part of what needs to be a much larger solution to these issues.
Project CARE is a good example of how collaboration is effective in responding to the opioid crisis. As a community, it is important that we seek more ways to collaborate on this issue.
As mentioned, isolation is a huge component to why people use substances. People, not only in Brattleboro, but all over the world, are lacking purpose and community. More community events, and circles of support were ways that were suggested to address this theme.
It’s important to remember that recovery is a long process. It could take 8 years to fully recover from substance use disorder. Recovery is not easy or a simple path, and it is important that our economy and community are both recovery ready.
COSU’s speakers emphasized the fact that prevention is a goal for the entire community.
How the Opioid Crisis Relates to our work at BCJC
A lot of our core members and guests that we work with here at BCJC have been affected some way by the opioid crisis. When speaking with people with substance use disorder or people affected by someone with substance use disorder, I think education on the sources of the disorder as well as the impacts of the disorder is important to keep in mind. Restorative Justice is about repairing relationships in the community after they have been violated, and many relationships have been violated by the opioid crisis. In order to restore in the wake of this crisis, community members must examine their responsibility to assist in the healing process and recognize that no problem is borne from one source alone. This crisis has been the result of a multitude of issues and therefore no individual holds the blame. At the same time, those that are perpetrating crimes because of a substance use disorder must be held accountable to their actions as well as be provided help as they have been the receiver of societal, communal, or personal wrongdoings themselves.
If you’d like more information, below I have included a PDF with my full notes from the talks, as well as a PDF with all of the resources I gathered at the talks.