By Kate Favata
Syringe services programs are a lifeline for people who use drugs. They save lives, prevent disease and act as a bridge to treatment – it worked for me.
I found my pathway to help through a syringe services program in Philadelphia. I know that I would not have had the chance at this amazing life I now have if it was not for this program.
I think about other Pennsylvanians that do not have this life-changing option like I did. That is why it is time to legalize syringe services programs statewide in Pennsylvania.
Actually, it is long overdue.
Syringe services programs exist in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, but it would require authorization by the state Legislature to allow programs statewide. Because of a syringe services program, I am one of those who have survived and can tell their story. My story began when I started using heroin in my late teens.
I grew up in Northeast Pennsylvania and had minimal education when it came to substance use disorder. I knew that drugs were bad, and you should not do them and that was pretty much my mindset as well as that of most people around me. I will spare you the details of how it started since everyone has a story and my story is not unique.
I can tell you that after going to countless treatment centers, the only thing they drilled into my head was that abstinence was the only way to find recovery, and I was not ready for that. I ended up homeless on the streets of Philadelphia because of my opioid use disorder. I had pretty much given up and knew that there was a good chance I would end up dead.
The small amount of hope I did have was that my mother would answer the call from the coroner and claim my body. In fact, I used to write her name and phone number with a sharpie on the inside of my coat. I found hope when my journey took me to Prevention Point Philadelphia.
Although I came in that day to get out of the cold and get clean syringes, what I experienced and ended up taking away from the program was much more. I was moved by the amount of empathy and compassion these workers had.
It was different than those who passed me on the street and either looked away or looked at me with disgust. It was different than how other people felt about people who inject drugs. For the first time, I did not feel judged even with my noticeable track marks on my neck and abscesses on my arms.
I can tell you that my journey towards recovery started on that cold winter day when I was provided with wound care, clothes and something to eat. People often say that the opposite of addiction is connection, and for the first time in a long time, I felt a connection.
That connection kept me coming back and staying engaged with the workers. I was told that if was not ready to stop using that was okay and they would not turn me away, which was a revelation for me. I became responsible and properly disposed of my used syringes.
I learned how to use naloxone and subsequently reversed many overdoses for others. I eventually got into a treatment program. Prevention Point Philadelphia helped me get there. Today, I work for a drug treatment program and help others get into recovery.
My employer, CleanSlate Recovery Centers, works with local harm reduction programs to reduce the transmission of hepatitis and HIV. We work with local programs to increase knowledge around the dangers of substance use and to reduce deaths and disease related to overdose and substance use.
Many people do not understand how valuable syringe services programs are to the community, especially to first responders and law enforcement. Syringe services programs take back and dispose of used syringes that could transmit blood borne diseases.
People who use syringe services programs are five times more likely to enter drug treatment than those who don’t use the programs. I was one of those people.
Harm reduction reduces harm not only for the individual using, but for the whole community.
My new hope is that, in the near future, more Pennsylvanians can find the hope I did as a pathway to recovery. Please open your mind and support these amazing programs.
Kate Favata is the senior community relations liaison for Clean Slate Recovery Centers, based in Brentwood, Tenn., with offices across Pennsylvania.
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