People’s Harm Reduction Alliance
The People’s Harm Reduction Alliance (PHRA) is a Seattle-based non-profit that distributes intravenous drug use supplies on the streets of Seattle’s U-District, as well as in Downtown Olympia and Kitsap County. PHRA partners with EGYHOP street outreach volunteers to distribute needles in Olympia. The leadership of this group also comprises the leadership team of The People’s House ‘low-barrier’ shelter. EGYHOP/PHRA unapologetically does not hand out needles in the manner of the 1:1 exchange run by Thurston County. Rather, it hands out needles regardless of whether or not there are dirty needles to exchange.
Listen to this short, yet enlightening interview by NPR’s Ross Reynold’s at KUOW.org : Shilo Murphy: Drug users are the best people to run needle exchanges.
The delusional and myopic mindset of an addict is on full display here. “Drugs saved my life and they made me a better life.” Olympia has given this mindset the keys to the city, and the outcome has been devastating. Our quality of life, public safety, and economic vitality have been severely compromised as a result.
The ‘Best & Brightest’ in Action
“I think in moderation, drugs are inanimate objects, they have no real values.” Murphy, who was admittedly ‘hung over’ during the interview, claimed several times to work ‘150-hour’ weeks, thereby claiming to defy the stigma of heroin addicts. We regret to inform Mr. Murphy that there are only 168 total hours in a week. That would only leave him with two and a half hours per 24-hour day to sleep, do drugs, and accomplish anything else. We don’t deny his dedication, but the interviewer did not even bother to question whether this was biologically possible for a human to do.
Despite hiring ‘the best and brightest,’ Murphy’s math skills are possessed by his volunteers on the street as well. At a recent community meeting, PHRA/EGYHOP distributed a fact sheet that claimed they consistently collect more needles than they hand out, distributing 300,000 to the street population Downtown last year, while collecting 350,000 in return. Months earlier we had requested this same data for its Olympia operations, and PHRA responded via email that this was not data that was tracked. If these numbers were indeed true, then PHRA/EGYHOP would never have to import needles from Seattle! They would continually have a larger and ever-growing surplus of syringes from when they go to have them properly disposed of and exchanged by Thurston County Health. What a mathematical mystery!
When asked about the risks of heroin use, Murphy only talked of how drug laws make heroin use dangerous. In reality, heroin/opiate overdoses are the leading cause of accidental death in Washington state as well as nationally, skyrocketing past deaths from traffic accidents. Messages from heroin awareness campaigns contrast sharply with PHRA’s depiction of a great life of heroin use; they state the following:
- If you use heroin long enough, you are going to see someone die.
- 30% of addicts end up using ‘survival sex’ to fund their addiction.
- Addicts must spend a lot of money each day not only to get high, but just to feel normal, in order to avoid painful withdrawal symptoms.
- At least 75% of people who try heroin once end up using again. Young adults eventually end up homeless.
- (Visit the interactive Wisconsin heroin awareness campaign The Fly Effect for the actual facts about the consequences of heroin use.
The heroin epidemic in Washington is so severe, yet none of our public health officials are speaking out about prevention or awareness. We can’t afford to have these dangerous messages, unchecked by journalists, coming across the airwaves.
It is one thing to help prevent HIV/Hep C infection. It is another thing to allow a city’s core to be crippled by drug use. It is counterproductive to operate under the guise of ‘harm reduction’ and ‘public health’ while at the same time advocating for heroin use, spreading myths about the safety of life-destroying substances, and being completely oblivious to community-wide impacts.
It is time for Olympia push back on the addict-centric mindset that is controlling the city. There are too many families in Olympia who are painfully and tragically aware that having even one heroin addict in the household is not sustainable. The exponentially growing numbers of new intravenous drug users in Olympia, correlated with the rise in violent crime, small business loss, theft, and trashed public spaces are proof that this is not a sustainable path for the City as a whole either.
‘Laws and norms’ regarding drugs were listed as the main risk factor for opiate addiction in Olympia by Thurston County Health’s Substance Abuse Strategic Plan. This conclusion is based on questions from the Healthy Youth Survey, given at local schools every other spring. Back in 2012, the survey revealed 4.7% of 10th graders indicated that they had used heroin. It is clearly time to stop giving heroin a pass. As long as the path of least resistance for addicts leads straight through Olympia, our community will continue to tumble down the dark and dangerous spiral of heroin addiction. We believe that the susceptibility of our ‘laws and norms’ must be addressed comprehensively from a law enforcement, education, and public health perspective.
We will leave you with this public service announcement from PHRA/EGYHOP, which features an improper method (according to WA state hazardous waste disposal laws) for disposal of dirty syringes – which are now your responsibility. Be sure to read the text below this YouTube video which assigns blame for dirty needles in public to diabetics and police harassment of drug users .