Needles in the Flower Bed: A Week in the Opioid Crisis

Our Executive Director, Patina Park

There is a lot of attention in the broader community now about the opioid crisis since it is affecting people from all socioeconomic and racial and cultural backgrounds. From my perspective, it feels like the attention and focus on solutions was only raised when white people started dying because brown and black people have been dying for a few years now, but any attention to the issue raises access to resources so I'm choosing to be grateful for the renewed energy around finding solutions.

I believe it can be difficult for those who have not been addicted themselves to understand how it affects the daily lives of many. They may see it as a character flaw... a "choice" people make to get high for fun, or to be weak in the face of life challenges. This is not true and is a perspective and attitude that only leads to more community harm and more of our people dying.

I want to give you a snapshot of my week at work and how opioids have come up to hopefully put a context on the problem that raises it above the superficial.

On Monday a request was made by a MIWRC program to move a picnic table away from a window because people are sitting around it to use drugs after business hours. This program operates in the evening so those here working on maintaining their own recovery can see the drug use. A discussion was held on the impact to staff and clients emotionally if the picnic table is moved and someone overdoses and dies because no one saw in time to save the person. There is no easy answer.

This week we had someone overdose at our front door. We were able to watch his actions on our cameras. He injected himself in plain daylight on the other side of the parking lot and then walked towards our agency. You can see exactly when the narcotic hits him hard as he veers towards the medicine garden, (She was trying to help him), but he gets back on the sidewalk, walks a little further, and then collapses. Luckily people saw him. Luckily we all carry naloxone here. Luckily he was revived. This was an Indigenous man. He was young. And though I don't know him personally, I know he is someone's son. I know he is our community's relative. I know that he is deserving of compassion and love.

Then a couple days later, another young Indigenous man took a large amount of prescription oxys here at the agency. He was able to call for help so the outcome could have been so much worse. But he is also someone's son and someone's father and our community's relative. Whether it was accidental or intentional, he is deserving of compassion and love.

Yesterday as I was leaving work, I ran into a friend who was wearing gloves, carrying a metal bucket, and walking around the neighborhood looking for needles. Looking for needles is an all day, every day activity, behind the trash containers, along the fences, in the allies, in the flower beds, everywhere. MIWRC has a staff member who now who lives on the premises in order to deter the evening, overnight, and weekend activity in our stairwells and more hidden spots.

Today one of the staff told me that one of her clients who is an elder and not a drug dealer, was the target of a group of people who surrounded and picketed her house because the large number of needles in the alley by her house led them to believe she is dealing drugs. These community members are frustrated and are trying to do whatever they can to stop people from bringing that poison to our families. Unfortunately, they were wrong this time. I am told she is deeply embarrassed and worried about what people are thinking of her. She is someone's daughter. She is someone's mother. She is deserving of compassion and love and so are those who mistakenly targeted her home. They are also sons, daughters, mothers, and fathers.

For those who are using, those who are selling, all our families affected, this is a problem hundreds of years in the making. For the Indigenous people of Turtle Island, the trauma of colonization is still living in our daily lives. The ongoing attempts for hundreds of years to wipe us off this land permanently is still felt acutely, and as someone who was at Standing Rock and who is paying attention to federal actions, policies, and rules regarding our lands, I don't believe those attempts ever ended. They just aren't as obvious as the past Boarding Schools and government payments for the scalps of Indians.

We aren't going to solve this trauma overnight. We aren't going to solve the symptoms of this trauma focusing on the individual symptoms and fighting amongst ourselves about who has the best approach. We need each other. And most important for me is that we recognize and see our relatives in the eyes of those who are caught up in the demon of addiction and we choose compassion. I know it isn't easy. I know this personally through the demons in my own family. I hate the addiction. I hate the behaviors that addiction causes. But we can't just focus on making the person stop using. We have to give them a reason to stop. There has to be hope for something better when they stop.

The solution is not learning abstinence, it is in learning how to heal. It is in the safety of knowing you can live in a safe and affordable home. It is in the security of meaningful employment. It is in the support for the first 1000 days of our children's lives and for education that meets the needs of our children. It is harm reduction and loving those who are almost impossible to love. It is in the healing of spirits and souls of everyone and of the land and water and air. We must address the root cause of this crisis, because until we do, we will continue find needles in our flower beds.