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People Who Sell Drugs Should Also Be Included in Harm Reduction Efforts

We all love one-stop-shops. Illicit drug dealers who provide syringes, naloxone, and other harm reduction supplies to patron

When we think of harm reduction, most people rarely think of helping people who sell drugs. Rather, helping general drug users out pops to mind.

In actuality, many illicit drug users sell drugs to others or otherwise facilitate the exchange of illicit drugs through one another. This includes acting as a “middleman” and using connections that your drug-using partners make available when you attempt to source drugs together by piling both of your money together, for example, among many other types of facilitation, harboring, or furthering.

Either way, no matter how many people actually sell drugs on occasion, it’s important for us harm reduction advocates to activate vendors as harm reductionists.

How Might You Activate a Dealer as a Harm Reductionist?

There are many ways to get dealers involved as harm reductionists. Unfortunately, they have historically been drastically under-utilized as assets in advancing our cause as harm reductionists. Here, I’ll be covering a handful of practical ways to get your sources of illicit drugs to engage in harm reduction practices and spread such ideas with others.

Make Sure to Build Tight Relationships First

Establish relationships with sellers first before attempting to establish them as harm reductionists. Doing so without having first established tight relationships, especially in rural Northwest Tennessee (NWTN), where people are largely unaware of harm reductionist’s ideas, practices, and policies, is less likely to be welcomed by your targets.

In areas where the local or regional cohorts of drug users and sellers alike are more likely to be aware of the availability of clean supplies and safe drug-using strategy education, you won’t be forced to develop such close relationships.

Unfortunately, this isn’t true here in NWTN. This ultimately slows how quickly harm reductionists can engage in the distribution of supplies to dealers throughout Northwest Tennessee.

Encourage Sellers to Share Supplies and Education Between One Another

Dealers might develop a competitive advantage by having regular access to clean, suitable harm reduction supplies, especially if those objects are provided at no cost. As such, they would be incentivized to keep such information quiet and to themselves to maintain that advantage.

However, dealers often work in loosely-fitted organizations known economically as cartels — for the record, I’m not referring to what we think of as “drug cartels,” but the true economic use of “cartel” — that operate through participants adopting like principles to protect common interests.

One example is a group of dealers fixing their prices at market-wide lows on the local drug market.

These groups of like-minded competitors, in the name of preserving the welfare of their long-term operations and reducing competition between individual cartel members, are also likely to share resources among themselves such as ideal sources of harm reduction supplies.

Keep in mind that in your exposing of people who sell drugs to such free harm reduction supplies, they’re going to be inherently incentivized to stock them in the name of more effectively attracting customers. The more people you establish such trusting, working relationships with, the more likely you’ll eventually stumble across members of such cartels who are more likely than other dealers to share harm reduction supplies among their drug-vending counterparts in a peer-to-peer fashion.

Putting Dealers On to the Utility of Standardized Drug Checking

Experts in the modern world of drug checking have mentioned that, once one major dealer in most towns, cities, or other relatively small areas regularly check the contents of drugs through chemical means when selling them to resellers and end-users alike, all other dealers are forced to also adopt the practice or be forced to compete with such a massive competitive advantage.

Even though some customers might not be interested in drug checking, most will either appreciate it from the jump or come to develop positive opinions about drug checking pretty early on.

Mandelin, Marquis, and Mecke reagent tests are the three most popular such reagents used in drug-checking. Using them simply requires chipping off a tiny amount of the drug in question. Separate the drug sample into three roughly equal parts, dropping one of each flavor of reagent on each sample. By simply reading the colors of these tests’ results, dealers can prove the contents of what drugs they’re selling to customers in real-time.

Instant urine drug screens use one or more paper strips to determine whether drugs or their metabolites are present in urine samples. One particularly sensitive such strip-based drug test is that of modern fentanyl urine screens.

Fortunately, these fentanyl test strips can also readily be used for detecting fentanyl in drug samples within anywhere from a few seconds to a couple of minutes. Simply dissolve a tiny bit of a drug in question in water, dip the strip in the solution for a few seconds, then read the strip’s results shortly thereafter.

These are both — the reagent tests and fentanyl test strips above — easy to understand and therefore useful among potential buyers, they are cheap to purchase and implement, as well as easy to source, whether they come from for-profit drug-testing-supply resellers or their non-profit counterparts.

Seek Out “Community Guide” Services From Well-Connected Individuals

This particular piece of advice also applies to drug users or people who are otherwise involved with drugs who don’t use or sell them.

Harm reductionists, both individuals and organizations, have experienced success in activating people who sell drugs as harm reductionists by building bridges between themselves and well-connected individuals among local or regional illicit drug markets.

These people are widely respected and trusted by dealers when they tell inform them about harm reduction. Also, dealers are more likely to welcome offers of being given free syringes, naloxone kits, and other drug-using supplies.

Although it’s not always possible, this is arguably the most effective and highest-valued approach to activating a market’s vendors as harm reductionists.

Know that, as you might imagine, these people will likely not be willing to share the identities of local dealers or introduce dealers to such harm reduction advocates directly. People who are fortunate enough to find such “community guides” should be thankful for having their help in any capacity, form, or fashion.

Making Sense of It All

Although I know it’s especially true particularly in Northwest Tennessee, there aren’t any established infrastructures for carrying out harm reduction activities on a large, state-approved scale. I’m sure it’s also like this many other places throughout the United States.

Since the contemporary drug-related roots of harm reduction only date back to the 1980s, I feel the general domestic realm of harm reduction is largely unexplored. It’d be nice if we could follow tried-and-true, already-tested guidebooks that include pictures for better understanding and step-by-step guides.

However, this is nothing more than a pipe dream.

Just know that it’s normal to not experience even moderate levels of success in activating drug dealers as harm reductionists. Be patient, street-smart, and don’t ruin individual relationships that must be based on trust.

Please report any strategies or approaches that you’ve found to be successful in activating dealers as advocates for our cause to me, directly, or elsewhere online, such as in popular, active web-based harm reduction and drug advocacy forums.

By Daniel Garrett

I'm a self-employed writer, long-term drug user, and resident of rural Tennessee. Find me on Twitter at @DanielGarrettHR or email me at danpgarr@ut.utm.edu.

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