Serving the Drug Addicts of Utah, One Syringe at a Time
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because she has stood out in the cold for months to try to help drug addicts.
By Nat Roe and Libby Coleman
In this occasional series, OZY takes to streets and neighborhoods across the globe to ask a simple question: “How was your day?”
Salt Lake City
We are running up to the store to get some brown paper bags for the exchange — I didn’t know we were running low. We don’t like to just hand people all their supplies, especially because almost all of them are homeless. They don’t really have a place to keep them. Having a little brown bag makes it easier.
People bring their dirty syringes to us; if they don’t have any, we will still give them however many syringes they need. We give them clean syringes, we give them tourniquets, alcohol swabs, first-aid kits if we have them, naloxone if we have them. All the things that it takes — they’re called works — all of those works for people to be able to inject drugs safely. We have a white tent, set it up, and we’re ready to go. We’re out there for two hours usually, but we won’t leave when people still need to be served. We set up on the block where the homeless shelter is. It’s a high drug use area. People are regularly seen dealing drugs and doing drugs on the street. That seemed like the most logical place to start. The homeless are the people with the least amount of access to resources and little if any money to buy anything, even syringes. Everything to get the organization up and running at first came out of my pocket.
When people think about Utah, they think … nobody uses drugs and nobody smokes — but that’s just not what’s going on here.
The syringe exchange has been up and running in Utah for almost two months. I was surprised at how quickly people warmed up to us. When people think about Utah, they think about this beautiful, promised land where people don’t swear and they don’t drink coffee and nobody uses drugs and nobody smokes — but that’s just not what’s going on here.
I’m originally from Bear Lake, Idaho, but I’ve lived in Utah since I was 3. I was raised Latter-day Saint, as most people here are. That had a big impact on my life and on me becoming disconnected from my family.
My dad worked for the Salt Lake City Corporation. My mom was a stay-at-home mom until she and my dad divorced when I was 7. Then my mom was sort of out of the picture. I was a very wild child; I started smoking cigarettes when I was, like, 7. When I was 12, my stepmom kicked me out of the house, and I went to live with my mom, who was alcoholic. I didn’t have a lot of adult supervision. One thing led to another, and I started using meth. My family tended to believe the answer was in religion. That didn’t do it for me. In fact, for me, religion pushed me further into using. By the time I was 15, I was injecting meth daily and cooking meth. I thought it would be the life I always lived.
I’ve lived two lives in one lifetime.
When I was 21, I had my son. My plan was to be the best mom in the world. I didn’t want him around drugs, but that’s not how it turned out. I had convinced myself that if I didn’t get high in front of him and I took care of his physical needs, I could be a mom and a drug addict. That’s just not the truth, not for me. My dad and stepmom took custody of my son, and at that point I ended up getting in a lot of trouble with the law. I was released from jail early to go through treatment. Soon after treatment, I started using, and the cycle started again. I lost my son a second time and got in trouble with the law again. I was in active addiction for 17 years before I got sober. I graduated from drug court and have been sober since I was 29. My son is now 15, and I have a 7-year-old daughter. I’m married — my husband’s spectacular.
Two and a half years ago, my sister died from a heroin-suboxone overdose. She was a devout Mormon, never smoked a cigarette, but was addicted to prescription pain medication. It was always prescribed by a doctor. They took her off it. The first time she tried heroin, she overdosed. And at the time, my baby brother, Stan, he was addicted to heroin as well. And being so devastated from losing my sister, I was willing to do whatever it took to help my brother.
My parents are so, so proud of me — because to see the person I used to be and the person I am today, it’s just night and day; I’m not the same human being. I’ve lived two lives in one lifetime. I know that I’ve made an impact here in Utah. My goal is to change the world. Even if it’s just the world I live in, I know I’ve done that.
Video by Nat Roe.