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I’m Burnt Out from Practicing Harm Reduction

Verywell / Cindy Chung

I’ve been giving out clean syringes, naloxone kits, and educating drug users and laypeople both here in Northwest Tennessee and online for about three years. Only once have I been paid for doing these things, which came in the form of writing three articles about laws that affect drug users here in Tennessee. I’ve also been a lone wolf in my efforts, not out of choice, but because there aren’t really any groups or even individuals providing these services locally.

While I don’t go out of my way to distribute supplies or educate others on a daily basis — I have to work, you know — I’d love to do this on a daily basis, given I could get enough money to sustain myself from doing so.

Last week, after three years of feeling strong passion for practicing harm reduction, I felt disinterested in pursuing these efforts any longer.

I don’t think this is permanent. I also don’t think this period of disinterest will last very long. However, my growing discontent with practicing harm reduction is undeniable. It seems to have hit a peak this past weekend.

Shit Gets Old

Last weekend, I distributed syringes, naloxone, and other supplies to a few people, all of whom were in the same location. They were hanging out at a certain someone’s house. None of them had regular access to free, clean syringes or other supplies, from what I learned from them.

Still — and without getting into any specifics — I felt disrespected by my fellow drug users. Even though I was, quite literally, risking my freedom to give them these supplies at no cost, it felt as if they felt entitled to what I gave them.

Nobody needs to treat me like a king for distributing harm reduction supplies or educating others, but I’d at least like mutual respect.

A Culmination of Things

I doubt this was the only factor that played into my current disinterest for practicing harm reduction.

Another thing is that I struggle to get help from others who are interested in harm reduction. These other people have lives, too, so I can’t expect them to hold helping me above all things else.

It just stinks not to have people around me who are just as interested in harm reduction as I was.

With this being said, I can’t blame anybody for not helping me as much as I’d like. I am notorious for not maintaining good relationships with others.

For example, I notice that I am only able to source illicit drugs from a small handful of people, even though I’ve sourced them from about a dozen different people since I came here to West Tennessee. Whose fault is that? While I could blame just a few broken relationships on other people, I feel like pointing my finger isn’t very responsible of me.

As such, I have to blame it on myself, of course, as blaming others would be nothing short of silly!

This translates over to practicing harm reduction. Although I try to do things that promote good relations between me and anybody I come across who’s even remotely interested in practicing harm reduction, I’m sure that I’ve inadvertently done things that has turned others away.

For example, several people who I’ve tried to meet have thought I’m a police officer in disguise or a confidential informant. Both of these are false. Still, even though I didn’t try, obviously, to be viewed as such, something — or some things — I’ve done have led others to think so.

In Closing

Other factors like not being able to get paid for this work are major influences into my current attitude towards harm reduction, of course, though they don’t really merit any explanation. Of course, in somewhere like Northwest Tennessee, where widely-held views aren’t kind towards drug users and there are zero forward-thinking programs to help problem drug users, there aren’t going to be any open positions for working as a paid harm reductionist.

This isn’t the end of harm reduction for me. In all likelihood, I’ll probably start warming back up to practicing harm reduction in just a few days. If not, this period of discontent likely won’t last for longer than a month or two.

I know I don’t have a big following — well, ANY following — online, but I wanted to hash my feelings out in writing and publish them just to have a publicly-available placeholder to explain why I wasn’t active as a harm reductionist for a short while.

Again, I need to note that it isn’t anybody else’s fault for my current disinterest toward practicing harm reduction.

Also, I’m sure it’s natural for anybody who helps other people to experience these feelings — I believe some refer to this as caregiver burnout.

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.

2 replies on “I’m Burnt Out from Practicing Harm Reduction”

Feel you on this. I get so many people super rude and demanding. Never say thank you and even ask for supplies like “time for you to send me my package” like they don’t realize I’m one person not a large organization or amazon.com J

On Sat, Feb 8, 2020 at 5:01 PM Northwest Tennessee Harm Reduction wrote:

> danpgarr posted: ” I’ve been giving out clean syringes, naloxone kits, and > educating drug users and laypeople both here in Northwest Tennessee and > online for about three years. Only once have I been paid for doing these > things, which came in the form of writing three artic” >

Liked by 1 person

To me, I think it hurts even more when people who inject drugs or problem drug users feel entitled to what we give out. Like me, PWID and PDU haven’t had the same shot at opportunities as “normal” people. They don’t have programs or resources geared toward them, specifically, many places. How could these people — of which I am one — come to feel entitled to, or at least feel used to, such help?

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