Just a few weeks ago, my friends and I had a case of the midnight munchies; with all other fast food establishments closed down for the night, we decided to go to the 24 hour Jack-In-The-Box on Blaine Street. As we pulled into the parking lot, we saw three meth addicts outside the front of the Jack in the Box. Being a resident of Riverside, this becomes an all too common sight. We don’t usually worry ourselves with it, we just roll up our car windows, lock the doors and continue on our way, which is exactly what happened on that night. Yet, one woman by the name of Katie Chamberlain has decided to make these addicts her concern.
Chamberlain is planning to set up the Inland Empire Needle Exchange, a nonprofit group that aims to distribute clean syringes to drug users to prevent the transmission of diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. Furthermore, Chamberlain aims to provide overdose prevention kits, HIV testing as well as counseling and support for any of those that seek it. Although this seems like a good idea, it is being met with resistance. Many individuals believe that the Inland Empire Needle Exchange enables drug users and promote drug use which in turn creates a larger drug problem. So the question remains: is she promoting drug use or is she providing a much needed service?
I, for one, admire the institution that Chamberlain has proposed. However, I do admit that the Inland Empire Needle Exchange will not solve or aid Riversides’ drug problem in any significant way. Keep in mind that if implemented, this nonprofit group has the potential to save hundreds, if not thousands of lives. Perhaps the needle exchange will promote the use of drugs; however there are other ways that drugs are endorsed as well. Peer pressure can lead to drug use and TV shows such as “Breaking Bad” work toward desensitizing people to drugs. Pretty much anything, be it stress in one’s life, depression or anything else that makes someone want to escape, can lead to substance abuse.
Adversely, some believe that Chamberlain is merely facilitating a user’s habit and that the money that would go to the Inland Empire Needle Exchange would be more helpful in being used to combat drugs directly and/or providing shelters for addicts. Although pouring more money into initiatives like this would certainly help in combatting the drug problem directly, I believe that it is time we tried something new. First of all, we already have thousands of shelters and rehabilitations centers sprawled throughout our city. Will a few more really make that much more of a difference? Secondly, even though drugs are the issue, lives are what matter and that is exactly what Chamberlain is addressing with her group.
So why not have something that allows for drugs to be used in a safe manner? It lowers the risk for the individual and the distribution of overdose kits can potentially save many lives. The people being treated aren’t just addicts: they are someone’s son or daughter, someone’s brother, sister or cousin, they are all human beings. Just because they didn’t stay on the straight and narrow doesn’t mean that they should suffer more for it than they already are. One could even make the argument that by not supporting the Needle Exchange, we are enabling the transmission of debilitating and life threatening diseases.
Yet, I digress. Katie Chamberlain may be an enabler, but her proposal is just the kind of alternative that we need, based on the support and direction that it intends to provide to users. Also the Inland Empire Needle Exchange will not be a group that aids users in continuing their habit — it will be one that will facilitate the prolongation of their lives, which I believe is a much more valuable outcome in the larger scope of things. Remember, these are not just addicts, these are human beings and they need our help.