The IRA’s Role in the Indiana Recovery and Harm Reduction Project
By Kirk Markey
As overdose death rates and the prescription opioid epidemic continue to worsen, more and more informed action is required at the local level. The Indiana Recovery Alliance has worked diligently to perform these actions for several years, usually with verifiably substantial results. At this time, we’d like to take the opportunity to update our community on what the IRA has accomplished over the past 12 or so months.
We convey this information for one simple reason: to demonstrate the undeniable benefits of Indiana harm reduction to the general public. It is quite apparent that our current public health programs are unequal to the task of diminishing the dire consequences of the opioid epidemic. Worse still, public ignorance allows advocates of these ineffectual programs to marginalize efforts like ours and to justify continued application of their undoubtedly failed policies. Lastly, we are convinced that an informed public is in a much better position to assess the merits of harm reductions and make their civic decisions accordingly.
The IRA’s Stance Towards Indiana Harm Reduction
Our efforts are a direct response to the devastating consequences of the current opioid/HIV/HCV epidemic. Importantly, they also represent a radical departure from the failed, racialized drug policies that have reigned in the U.S. over the past 150 years. In no way should the IRA’s efforts be construed as an extension of these failed policies. In fact, everything we do is intended to be a pragmatic and rhetorical rejection of these almost exclusively punitive measures.
This total rejection is based on many factors, including the following states of affairs that currently obtain in the local area:
- a 500% increase in overdoses over the past few years
- the outbreak of a Hepatitis C Epidemic in Monroe County
- a continued opioid epidemic
- unprecedented levels of mass incarceration
- the worst per capita HIV outbreak in our country’s history in Scott County
This is only a small sampling of the damning evidence against our current theoretical and practical approach to our country’s drug problems. These statistics demand a new approach to Indiana Recovery and drug policy. Lastly, they provide ample reason to reject our current policies wholesale.
Indiana Harm Reduction and Community Safety
As a substitute for these failed policies, we offer evidence-based practices that reduce the harmful effects of drug use at both the individual and public level. At a rhetorical level, our practices enact the principle of non-coercion that we believe must stand at the root of any effective drug policy. Here is a partial list of the actions we’ve taken to reduce the harmful impact of drug use within our local community:
- We’ve distributed over $1,000,000 worth of harm reduction supplies. We have delivered these supplies for free and at no cost to the taxpayer.
- We’ve engaged with almost 2,500 unique members of the community who use IV drugs, serving as a previously unavailable access point to further services.
- Over 70% of our participants have been non-coercively referred to numerous other public health services.
- These non-coercive interventions include hundreds of substance use referrals, many of which involve long-term treatment.
- We’ve referred hundreds of participants to The Healthy Indiana Plan (HIP), as well as to numerous mental health facilities
- We’ve also facilitated hundreds of consultations between participants and our volunteer nurses
- We’ve distributed over 10,000 doses of Naloxone to current drug users and their families, as well as to social service providers.
- Our participants have reported over 1,100 opiate overdose reversals
As you can see, we are much more than an Indiana needle exchange. In fact, needle exchange only represents a small fraction of what the IRA does on a daily basis to serve the drug using and non-drug using communities.
But it is crucial to note that we offer this ‘disclaimer’ ONLY as a means to describe the scope of our services more accurately, not as a justification for our status as a needle exchange center. The practice of maintaining a needle exchange is justified in and of itself. We refuse to participate in the continued stigmatization of IV drug use by providing superfluous explanations.
The Indiana Recovery Alliance’s Efforts to Combat the HIV Epidemic in Indiana
While the Indiana Recovery Alliance– and harm reduction in general– works directly with the individual drug user to support any positive change, we’ve also made tremendous efforts to combat the HIV epidemic in Indiana.
Whether our policymakers wish to acknowledge it or not, there is an intimate connection between providing non-coercive support for the individual drug user and the promotion of public safety. The following list of our accomplishments will demonstrate this connection explicitly.
Here are the measures the Indiana Recovery Alliance has taken to combat the Indiana HIV outbreak:
- We’ve administered 225 HIV tests and 200 Hepatitis tests
- We’ve offered mobile outreach services twice a week in Bloomington, as well as office hours five days a week. We are also beginning to deliver harm reduction supplies in rural areas.
- We’ve provided sharp containers for safe needle disposal to the Bloomington Police Department, the Bloomington Housing Authority, and the Bloomington Parks and Recreation Department.
- We’ve collaborated directly with many local and state agencies to promote Indiana Recovery and combat the spread of infectious diseases. These organizations include The Community Health Initiative Program, the Indianapolis Treatment Center, Indiana University, Centerstone, Amethyst House, and the Attorney General’s office. Additionally, we’ve collaborated with Fairbanks Hospital, The Recovery Engagement Center, Overdose Lifeline, The Monroe County Health Department, and New Leaf – New Life.
- We’ve engaged with thousands of participants by providing general support services. These include nursing triage in our mobile unit, the distribution of blankets, jackets, and other clothing. We’ve also distributed feminine products, camping gear, hot coffee, and food to community members in need.
Indiana Recovery and Harm Reduction Going Forward
Though we’ve obviously received massive levels of support from the local community, resistance to our efforts remain. This resistance is based on outmoded treatment models and archaic perceptions of the individual drug user. In other words, this resistance is dangerous and misguided.
One of the purposes of this post is to erode this resistance. Another purpose is to disseminate information about our work to the local, state, and national communities. Perhaps most importantly, all of our efforts represent a consistent attempt to change the inaccurate and harmful narrative that has long accompanied chaotic drug use.
Lastly, these efforts will continue. We will continue to provide non-coercive services to drug users in our community and support public safety.You can contribute in a number of ways, many of which do not involve monetary donations. Either way, we are very grateful for any support you can give and your consideration.
If you’d like further information, please contact us directly or refer to our Frequently Asked Questions page.