Categories
From Personal Experience Harm Reduction

Can You Use Narcan on Yourself?

Naloxone is the active ingredient in Narcan, a nasal spray formulation of the drug that reverses opioid overdoses nearly instantly. You may have heard about Narcan or naloxone in recent news headlines related to the rash of opioid use that culled 47,600 Americans in 2017.

Naloxone most often comes in two forms: intramuscular naloxone kits and the more convenient name-brand Narcan nasal spray. Narcan is easier in that it only requires the nasal spray unit itself which is fool-proof and comes loaded with ready-to-go nasal sprays from the time they’re manufactured.

If you aren’t already familiar with intramuscular naloxone administration, it requies drawing naloxone solution into a syringe for injection is time-consuming and may prove difficult during the panic that witnesses might feel immediately after friend, family member, or running partner experiences opioid overdose. This is the main reason why Narcan is superior — it’s hard to mess up administering the drug with this name-brand nasal spray.

How Long Does Opioid Overdose Take?

Opioid overdoses can take place anywhere from seconds to hours after an opioid user’s last dose. Intravenous use (shooting up) typically manifests overdose symptoms most quickly, followed by intramuscular use. After that, intranasal (snorting) and rectal (boofing, booty bumping) overdoses happen pretty quickly, though not as quick as with injection use. Oral administration usually takes the longest to result in an overdose.

But how long, exactly,” you may ask, but there’s no set-in-stone time frames during which opioid overdose can be expected.

I’ve overdosed some 10 minutes after injecting opioids intravenously, which is supposed to cause overdose instantly — at least that’s what many people think, both users and laypeople.

About two hours after I took a combination of oxycodone (Percocet, OxyContin) and alprazolam (Xanax), I experienced my first overdose. Most people think that OD’s never take this long to manifest — think again, as they very well can.

In Practice, Only Others Can Reliably Use Narcan

Most opioid users don’t want to forego the high that their expensive opioids bring them. Most of us, especially those in rural Northwest Tennessee, are not able to readily afford opioids to our liking. This makes us not want to waste the high that disappears when naloxone is administered.

Despite its life-saving capability, still some people are averse to using it at the risk of spurring precipitated withdrawal, a beefed-up version of opioid withdrawal syndrome caused by administering naloxone.

Many users whom I’ve distributed supplies to here in Northwest Tennessee weren’t familiar with “naloxone,” let alone how to use it. Those who are familiar with it tend to think self-administration is both feasible and reliable.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

As a four-time opioid-overdose-experiencer who’s been given naloxone thrice, opioid overdose feels like going to sleep out of nowhere, often with no sense that an overdose is imminent.

Self-Administration of Naloxone Isn’t a Reliable, Feasible Option

Most people fall unconscious before they can prepare themselves to administer naloxone. Once you’re unconscious, it’s kinda hard to do anything, let alone revive yourself. For this reason, self-administration of naloxone isn’t possible.

Besides, even if you could walk that thin line, just know that you don’t get any second chances — the first time you fail, you die.

What Opioid Users Should Do

  • Always use around someone else who isn’t also using drugs, at least not those that can cause deadly overdose. Inform them when you’re using, make sure they know where naloxone is, and ensure they understand how to spot overdose symptoms and administer naloxone.
  • People who are prescribed opioids should also be aware of the risks of opioid overdose. They should follow the same protocol that I’m covering right here.
  • Learn how to spot signs of opioid overdose and how to administer naloxone via an online training course like this one to help others improve their OD response efforts.
  • Join a local harm reduction coalition or recovery alliance.
  • Look for more insight on administering naloxone and spotting overdose by googling the topic. I implore you to always research things — at least things of importance, which I hope you consider administering naloxone to be — you find online.

Both opioid users and laypeople should strive to educate themselves about naloxone and how to use it, which can easily be done online.

Where to Find Naloxone

In most places across the United States, it’s relatively easy to find free naloxone around close or online. Here are some resources for people in

Government agencies provide naloxone and related training on local levels, such as the municipal-level, Tennessee-based Weakley County Prevention Coalition.

State-level Narcan provision is also done, such as by the state of Tennessee’s Department of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services, which is carried out by 20 Regional Overdose Prevention Specialists (ROPS) responsible for various regions throughout the Volunteer State. Melesa Lassiter, for example, is Region 6N’s ROPS, which covers the nine-county spread making up the entirety of Northwest Tennessee.

Non-profit organizations such as NEXT Distro of New York City, New York, are even active on a national level, which spreads harm reduction supplies and education across the 50 states.

See my other article, “Accessing Naloxone in Martin, Tennessee,” to learn one effective, reliable means of sourcing Narcan in Martin, Tennessee, one of many small towns in Northwest Tennessee. If you’re not in Martin or Weakley County, Tennessee, google your local area’s services. Find more general drug-related resources here.

Categories
Chronic Pain From Personal Experience Harm Reduction Kratom

Kratom’s Utility in Addressing Opioid Use

Kratom trees, scientifically known as Mitragyna speciosa, are indigenous to Southeast Asia. Their leaves have been consumed by locals for hundreds, if not thousands, of years primarily for helping laborers work harder, longer, and more effectively. Kratom, which refers to the leaves of Mitragyna speciosa trees, has also been relied on for various medicinal and social applications by people indigenous to Southeast Asia.

More recently, in the past couple of decades, the Western world has grown fond of kratom. The United States is currently the world’s number-one national consumer of the drug. I believe that the recent climb of opioid use throughout the United States is responsible for kratom’s uptick in popularity in the past two-or-so decades.

Just like cannabis, kratom contains a few dozen alkaloids that are responsible for its effects. Unlike cannabis, kratom’s alkaloids have not yet been studied very well. We know that these alkaloids act on the brain’s opioid receptors. Some, particularly advocates of keeping kratom legal, backed by the American Kratom Association, argue that kratom is distinct from other opioids and should not be classified as one.

I will not be differentiating or comparing kratom and opioids in this article. Rather, I will simply address the utility of kratom in replacing traditional opioids among people who suffer from opioid use disorder, as well as how kratom can be used to dampen the effects of opioid withdrawal syndrome among people who are physically dependent on opioids.

Also, I will refer to kratom as an opioid in this article because, put simply, it acts very much like an opioid. It stops opioid withdrawal for most people suffering from opioid use disorder. It provides pain relief in the same fashion as traditional opioids. I understand that there are differences between traditional opioids and kratom — however, for all practical purposes, they are largely the same.

Opioids Are Known for Causing Dependency

One of the most common reasons why people suffering from opioid use disorder find quitting to be difficult is that they don’t want to face the effects of opioid withdrawal syndrome. As you likely know, after using opioids daily for even just a couple of months, users experience physical withdrawal symptoms that can be particularly rough.

Although opioid withdrawal is not typically known to cause death, the Internet, rehabs, medication-assisted treatment programs, and general drug culture are all littered with anecdotes of how harsh opioid withdrawal symptoms are.

In general, non-prescription drugs and prescription medications alike — the latter often known by prescribers as “comfort meds” — are used to ease opioid-dependent persons from opioids.

12 name-brand Suboxone films, commonly used as opioid replacements, stacked on top of one another.
Wikimedia Commons

Drugs such as methadone and buprenorphine (e.g., Suboxone, Subutex, Bunavail) are often used by medication-assisted treatment (MAT) providers to help opioid-dependent people from experiencing withdrawal symptoms and help them maintain neurological normalcy, two things that such opioid-dependent people would otherwise experience if they were to entirely cease the use of opioids.

Without getting into the problems that opioid users in Northwest Tennessee and elsewhere in rural Tennessee face in seeking out methadone or buprenorphine in place of their current opioids of choice, what’s important to know is that we — I say “we” as a long-term opioid user myself; fortunately, I’m currently on Suboxone and have been for a little over two months now, as of mid-November 2019 — often struggle to afford to pay for these MAT programs or the medication they prescribe, let alone have access to resources like reliable transportation to be able to visit them.

The Utility of Kratom in Addressing Opioid Use

Kratom isn’t only useful in serving people suffering from opioid use disorder as an alternative to other, often-illicit, expensive, not-always-available opioids. However, this article only addresses kratom in this light — just so you know.

Put simply, kratom relieves the symptoms of opioid withdrawal, both physical and mental. The Internet is flooded with anecdotal reports of regular opioid users who have used kratom in place of other opioids, having completely molly-whopped their expected opioid withdrawal symptoms from rearing their ugly heads in true Whack-A-Mole fashion. Personally, kratom has done just this for me.

However, for others, kratom only reduces the severity of opioid withdrawal symptoms.

Either way, kratom does a good job at eliminating or reducing the gut-wrenching effects of opioid withdrawal syndrome.

Why Use Kratom in Place of Other Opioids?

Opioids are expensive for the overwhelming majority of opioid users in Northwest Tennessee — and elsewhere throughout the United States. Since prescribers have cracked down on their once-liberal opioid prescribing practices, causing the available supply of prescription opioids diverted to the domestic black market for sale to drop, the price of available opioid tablets — and other less-common formulations, such as Actiq fentanyl lozenges or hydromorphone rectal suppositories — has skyrocketed for most of us.

In Southern Middle Tennessee, for example, according to personal experience and reports of fellow drug users who are from the area, the standard price of 30-milligram, instant-release oxycodone tablets — aka roxies or blues, as they’re often called — have risen to $50 to $60 per tablet! That’s up from a standard rate of roughly $20 per tablet in this same area around 2011 or 2012, when I first got into opioids.

Reason Number One

Mitragyna speciosa (Kratom) tree in the wild.

Kratom is far cheaper than other opioids. Although some blessed — or not-so-blessed, depending on how you look at it — individuals are able to secure ultra-high-dosage prescriptions from legitimate physicians and cover the cost of both their medication and doctor visits with insurance coverage or source low-cost prescriptions from family members in such a fashion, the vast majority of us are forced to pay lots of money for illicit opioids.

Currently, standard-quality, unadulterated, powdered kratom costs as little as $80 per kilogram from U.S.-based vendors. It goes for as little as $40 to $50 per kilogram from Indonesian-based vendors, where the vast majority of kratom consumed by American users originates.

Some people pay much more for kratom, such as in gas stations, convenience stores, or head shops, with prices ranging upward of a dollar per gram — that’s $1,000 per kilogram!

For reference, when I used kratom more often, I would usually dose between 6 and 12 grams, taken up to five or six times per day, if not more. Kratom doses for others usually range between 1 and 15 grams per dose.

Reason Number Two

Kratom is more readily available than other opioids. Back before the contemporary opioid epidemic, when the United States was home to fewer street heroin users, the domestic population of people suffering from opioid use disorder consisted of a greater proportion of those who sourced prescription opioids (including prescriptions diverted to the black market) rather than heroin to fuel their addictions.

In these days, even though the supply of legitimate prescription opioids was saturated, dealers ran out of opioids because of the problems related to sourcing prescription opioids. Of course, this persists today, just in far more prevalent fashion than before.

Heroin — I often refer to heroin as “street heroin” or “illicit street heroin” because heroin is used in pharmaceutical applications elsewhere, such as Diaphin, a brand-name, pharmaceutical version of heroin… in practical local use, though, nobody calls it that — does not fall short to this “prescription problem.” Due to its black-market nature, heroin is more consistently available than pharmaceutical opioids.

Reason Number Three

Kratom doesn’t cause respiratory depression like traditional opioids.

What’s more important is that kratom doesn’t cause people to lose consciousness — respiratory depression isn’t, actually, the main cause of opioid overdose deaths. Rather, sedatives sometimes cause people to lose consciousness and the ability to keep their airways open.

In other words, people find themselves unable to breathe during opioid overdoses.

Considering that kratom isn’t as likely to cause the single-most dangerous side effect of traditional opioids, it’s loads safer!

I should note that some studies claim that kratom does cause respiratory depression. However, widely-supported kratom reseach such as the AKA’s 8-Factor Analysis of kratom indicates that such concerns are blown out of proportion by federal government agencies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Make your own determination regarding whether the FDA is unbiased in pumping out research that unfairly, untruly portrays the facts about drug use. One major incentive for the FDA to do so is to maintain the War on Drugs waged by the U.S. government against drug users and, by extension, society at large.

Also, another way that opioids cause overdose is through asphyxiation. Opioids sometimes cause vomiting. They also cause people to lose consciousness. Combined, opioid overdoses sometimes manifest themselves by users choking on their vomit.

In my experience — and according to countless thousands of anecdotal reports spread far and wide across the World Wide Web — kratom isn’t prone to making people pass out. While kratom may make people barf, at least they won’t spill their guts while unconscious, further separating kratom from traditional opioids in terms of safety.

Another way to look at safety is, because of kratom’s legality in both Indonesia — the overwhelming majority of kratom unarguably comes from Indonesia, specifically West Kalimantan, part of the Republic of Indonesia’s legally-owned stake of the island of Borneo, a large Southeast Asian island — and most of the United States, kratom is less likely to be cut — another word for “adulterated” or “made impure” — with other unwanted active ingredients or unknown adulterants.

I’ve heard that some batches of kratom are adulterated with “matcha,” or powdered green tea leaves. They taste largely the same as kratom and are the same color as ground, powdered kratom. Batches are rarely adulterated with active ingredients other than matcha (which contains caffeine, if you didn’t know), according to my experience with close, personal relations with Indonesian kratom vendors and processors (to read more about my relationship with these two people, skip to the section below about it).

All considered, the market status of kratom also makes it safer than many drugs sold on the black-market economy many common psychoactive drugs are sold on in the United States. Cannabis is largely safe, even in illegal states, for example, though many other popular drugs, such as heroin, are often loaded with adulterants.

Compare the relative safety of kratom to traditional opioids, then combine it with the above, to understand the full picture on kratom’s safety-related utility on opioid users.

Reason Number Four

Of course, in both my experience and the minds of countless other regular illicit drug users throughout the world, the illegality of drugs isn’t stopping hardly anybody. We’re still going to use drugs, whether or not they’re legal.

In other words, the ongoing War on Drugs isn’t working.

The primary reason why I enrolled in a MAT program is that heroin, my now-former drug of choice, is illegal. Everything about it is illegal. People who sell it are often engaged in other criminal activities — not because they’re bad people, in most cases, but because of a combination of other factors that are too lengthy to get into in this article.

I grew tired of the bullshit associated with heroin thanks to its illegal nature.

Although some drug users are disciplined in avoiding run-ins with law enforcement, inevitably, the vast majority of us will face legal trouble at some point in our drug-using careers. I’ve known this from the start, but, of course, it wasn’t enough to stop me from using drugs.

Without getting into too much detail, I wasn’t willing to risk getting in legal trouble any further, and, just a couple of months ago, I turned to a medication-assisted treatment program for help dealing with my regular use of heroin and other opioids.

The criminal justice system ultimately turned me to Suboxone. I’m grateful for that today. No more worrying about dying every fucking time I want to get high.

Suboxone is super expensive, but at least I’m safer.

Anyway.

Kratom, at least here throughout the state of Tennessee, is legal. You can’t get in trouble for kratom, legally-speaking, that is — well, at least you’re not supposed to, as some people in the Volunteer State very much have gotten in trouble for kratom possession or sale.

Most — most, not all — drug screens do not test for kratom’s alkaloids or any of their metabolites. Therefore, people in drug court, on probation, or on parole may find utility in turning to kratom as a substitute for other drugs.

Whether you’re on probation/parole, or if you simply are too scared to use illicit drugs because of potential negative outcomes stemming from run-ins with law enforcement — which includes potentially harmful interactions with law enforcement officers, such as unlawfully being shot or physically struck, however unlikely that may be, or having large amounts of cash seized as “drug money,” even if they’re not related to drugs in the slightest, among other things — or sentences placed upon you by the criminal justice system, kratom is a fine alternative to other drugs.

By the way, there’s nothing wrong with being scared of law enforcement. I am, that’s for sure! I hate that so many of us drug users have to feel that way.

Note the idea of “toxic masculinity,” whereby men have been raised by parents or society — usually both — to not be scared of or admit being scared by real threats such as those posed by doing illegal things. People who hold such ideas, which are especially prevalent in NWTN and the rest of the Southeast, are seemingly more likely to engage in adopting common harm reduction practices to some degree, however how small. This is of my personal opinion and experience spending my short lifetime in rural Tennessee, particularly Southern Middle and Northwest Tennessee.

Reason Number Five

People who face the threat of employment-related drug screens also use kratom for this very reason. Keep in mind that some state- and federal-level government agencies acting as employers are typically more likely than other employers to engage in the expensive, wide-ranging drug tests that are more likely to detect kratom as opposed to mainstream, run-of-the-mill urine and saliva drug tests.

Someone, assumed to be an employer, offering a urine drug screen and clipboard with disclosure form to the viewer.

This can be largely related to the drug screens often required by probation and parole requirements referenced above.

Reason Number Six

Kratom was illegal in the Volunteer State as recently as 2016. Since kratom isn’t illegal, it’s more on par in terms of social acceptability à la alcohol as opposed to largely-illicit drugs that are not societally considered as acceptable.

Official logo of the
PRNewsfoto / American Kratom Association

Just for the record, and in the interest of being fair to the American Kratom Association (AKA), I should also mention what positive work the AKA has done for kratom.

I feel like the differentiation between traditional opioids and kratom has harmed my efforts of promoting the normalcy of drug use, particularly opioid use. Opioids have consumed the bulk of my attention in being an active advocate for harm reduction (i.e., giving out free and clean syringes, providing naloxone to users and laypeople alike and educating them best practices in preventing opioid-related deaths) because of opioids having been my drug of choice for about five-and-a-half years as of now, mid-November 2019 and the ongoing opioid epidemic.

The FDA has argued against kratom advocates by say it should be grouped into the category of traditional opioids as a tool to keep kratom illegal throughout the United States.

I should mention that the AKA claims that kratom “is not a drug,” which is wholly false. Drugs, put simply, are things that change how we feel. Kratom very much changes how people feel, with the exception of long-term users who’ve built up tolerance to the leafy green psychoactive drug.

The AKA also says, per its “Follow the Science” web page, that it’s “not a synthetic substance” or “an opiate.” First off, synthetic substances aren’t inherently harmful; also, just because something is natural doesn’t mean it’s safe. Second, opiates — a more appropriate, all-encompassing term is “opioid,” as opposed to “opiate,” which refers only to drugs that are found naturally in the opium poppy — aren’t inherently bad, either.

However, I understand that avoiding labeling kratom as a synthetic substance or opioid helps the American Kratom Association in its efforts to keep kratom legal throughout the United States. I’m torn between praising the AKA for doing a great job of keeping kratom legal and damning them for piling even more stigma onto opioids — and kratom is pretty darn similar to opioids, might I add.

A Side Note

With this in mind, I consider the AKA’s efforts over the past few years as being detrimentally influential to my largely-opioid-related harm reduction efforts.

However, seeing as I have used kratom regularly over the past three years when I couldn’t afford illicit opioids — something that often happened quite frequently throughout my time as a drug user when focused on opioids as my drug of choice — to make keep me happy, away from anxiety and depression, and feeling “normal,” the AKA has sure helped my outlook of experiencing serious outcomes from my almost-six-year period as a concurrent traditional opioid and kratom user.

Put simply, AKA good bc provide legal & cheap alternative to opioid use.

IMO, AKA bad bc didn’t advocate for all drugs.

Doing so would have obviously made it so much more difficult for the kratom advocacy community and the AKA to successfully reverse many near-decisions to make kratom illegal on several levels of state and municipal governments.

Tying This All Together — Here’s the Skinny

Modern American illicit opioid users are plagued by countless major market-wide issues, such as a lack of regulation and policing as the sole mode of industry administration.

This is especially true in backwards-thinking areas of the United States, such as in Northwest Tennessee.

Kratom has many benefits to illicit opioids in modern America. Keep in mind that kratom definitely isn’t a cure-all. Also, there’s a lack of research — of its commercial market and on an academic, a pharmacological, and a medical level — that makes understanding truly how much kratom improves the long-term outcomes of modern American illicit opioid users.

My Relationship With Two Indonesian Kratom Vendors/Processors/Harvesters

Most Americans don’t talk to native Indonesians very often. Personally, I don’t know any languages but English. I’ve never been out of the country and travel very little. I am not well cultured myself and am not trying to seem that way or brag about my time being connected to the industry in this way.

Since the kratom industry in Indonesia isn’t regulated and kratom trees grow wild there, making it easy for anybody to visit public lands that contain wide ranges of rainforest, which is what the island of Borneo consists of.

The U.S. Dollar goes far in Indonesia. The number-one national consumer of kratom, again, is the United States. Indonesians capable of harvesting, processing, and selling kratom are incentivized to do so.

Some privately-owned kratom trees exist in both small-time residential capacities and large, farmed capacities. However, you should understand that most kratom is not farmed, no matter what the majority of American kratom consumers might think.

Because of the nature of kratom in Indonesia, commercially speaking, it makes sense why Indonesians would want to keep industry-specific information — admittedly, they’ve done a good job of securing these details among themselves — within their own country and out of the lexicon of American kratom users.

Here’s How It Happened

I offered to write articles for about 10 kratom vendors active on the Internet via email. One of them was based in Indonesia. We’ll call them KootaBang, or KB for short.

KB was operated by a pair of young Indonesian men. They had been selling kratom shipped from Indonesia for a few years and worked with at least two other individuals they met online in the United States. I was the third that I know of. Even if they have to risk someone running off with a shipment of kratom — the largest single incoming shipment, in my situation, was less than 200 pounds, which was lasted about a month — it was worth taking the risk (see USD exchange rates with the Indonesian Rupiah, etc., above) for their potential reward.

I simply performed customer service, as they weren’t fluent English speakers, and shipped the already-packaged kratom throughout the U.S. via my local post office. I paid nothing for the kratom shipments. It was all loaned to me. They paid for all shipping, too. The customer service function of my job work was something I offered to do after shipping kratom for a little while.

So, I didn’t own KootaBang, but I pretty much ran it myself — operations-wise, that is.

I bring this up to explain why they would have been incentivized to share some industry insider information — keep in mind that kratom is largely new across the U.S. and that we grow absolutely none used on a commercial scale here — with me rather than hide it. Any of the now-four people who have run KootaBang’s United States-based operations could have run away at any time with current inventory stores worth a few thousand dollars. Doing so also would have taken KootaBang out of business due to how long finding a new suitable U.S.-based vendor, including shipping kratom some 7,000 to 9,000 miles away from Indonesia to the United States, takes.

Did I Learn Everything There Is to Know?

Absolutely not! All of the stuff I learned — the stuff that most other American kratom consumers wouldn’t know about — didn’t scratch the surface of what there is to know.

I don’t know how the various drying or curing methods affect the alkaloid concentrations and their proportions to one another. I don’t know how to grow kratom myself. I didn’t ever go there, let alone participate in the industry myself.

I didn’t get the gig with them because I was good — I got lucky! I can’t pretend that I earned it myself. I was very small-time and my experience spanned just four months of hands-on kratom selling.

Also, as time goes on, these “trade secrets” will become more widely known across American kratom consumers. I think this is great, by the way, in the name of better understanding kratom.

I share this stuff not to seem like I’m special and holier than thou — I just want to share what should be common knowledge across the world of kratom. I wish I, and everybody else, knew it from the jump.

If you visit the Kratom subreddit on Reddit, you’ll see that ignorance is common across the community, but that’s only because Indonesian kratom industry participants benefit from keeping it that way and withholding information that only people who have hands-on experience with kratom harvesting and processing possess.

Categories
Criminal Justice Drug User Advocacy From Personal Experience The Volunteer State

A Law Every Tennessean Should Know About — T.C.A. § 40-7-124

I’m not an attorney. I’ve never practiced law.

As a long-term drug user, unfortunately, I’ve had a few run-ins with law enforcement and the criminal justice system. Many drug users, especially those who suffer from substance use disorder and have for a long time, share these same legal struggles.

In my nine-plus years of regular drug use, one thing I’ve learned is that the average drug user spreads far more misinformation about drugs than they do truthful, accurate information about drugs. Also, laypeople — whether they use drugs or not — don’t know much about the law, generally speaking.

In this article, I want to shed light on a relatively new law codified within the state of Tennessee — the state’s laws are codified within Tennessee Code Annotated, for the record — called T.C.A. § 40-7-124.

Why Should You Know About It?

T.C.A. § 40-7-124 — that’s pronounced as Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 40, Chapter 7, Section 124 — protects drug users from getting popped with Possession of Drug Paraphernalia, a Class A misdemeanor (as much as 1 year in jail, $2,500) as long as they’re honest with law enforcement officers about what they have in their possession.

To best understand T.C.A. § 40-7-124, please read the entirety of this article. It also wouldn’t hurt to google “T.C.A. § 40-7-124” and read what you can about the law elsewhere, too.

You can pronounce this law as Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 40, Chapter 7, Section 124. I struggled with trying to say it out loud after learning about it, but there weren’t any readily-available resources that were easy to understand. Still, to be honest, I am not 100% sure if this pronunciation is correct. If I’m wrong, tell me and I’ll change it — at least we’ll finally have some closure.

What Is T.C.A. § 40-7-124?

This law protects people who are caught with syringes or other sharp objects that have been used as drug paraphernalia from getting charged with being in possession of drug paraphernalia for those objects, though you must inform law enforcement that you’re in possession of such objects before you get searched.

For example, let’s say you’re in possession of a razor blade used to chop up cocaine, heroin, pills, or meth, or a syringe used to inject such illicit drugs. Before you get searched, you inform the law enforcement officer who pulled you over or otherwise apprehended you of your possession of such items. You are not legally allowed to be charged with or prosecuted for being in possession of drug paraphernalia, codified in Tennessee Code Annotated as T.C.A. § 39-17-425, since you informed that officer of the presence of that razor blade or syringe.

Keep in mind that you very much can get charged with being in possession of drug paraphernalia for other drug paraphernalia not covered by T.C.A. § 40-7-124, such as a plate used to chop illicit drugs upon, a straw used to snort illicit drugs, and so on. Also, if you’re in possession of actual drugs and you get caught with them in this situation, you’ll likely be charged with being in possession of such drugs — T.C.A. § 40-7-124 doesn’t protect you against everything that’s drug-related.

What’s the Purpose of T.C.A. § 40-7-124?

Politicians and other governmental figures want to protect law enforcement officers from being exposed to used syringes or other harmful objects. Syringes are sharp and, obviously, can cause physical harm, even if they’re 100% sterile. However, people don’t carry syringes for no reason — in most cases, that is — and usually intend to use syringes for the administration of illicit drugs, hormones, insulin, etc.

This Tennessee drug law came about in 2015 with the intention of protecting law enforcement officers — the uniformed public servants who do work tough, dangerous jobs — working jurisdictions within the state of Tennessee from being exposed to objects that are very much capable of spreading blood-borne diseases such as HIV or Hepatitis C.

What Happens if You Get Arrested Despite the Protections Afforded by § T.C.A. 40-7-124?

Ultimately, if you want to reduce the risk of getting arrested, you should never travel with drugs or drug paraphernalia. However, this simply isn’t feasible! We drug users have to source drugs and drug paraphernalia somehow.

Most often, we have to drive to where the drugs are or otherwise transport ourselves to them to source them.

Anyways — what happens if you get arrested despite playing by the rules of § T.C.A. 40-7-124?

Let’s assume you only get arrested for being in violation of T.C.A. § 39-17-425. In laymen’s terms, this simply means you got arrested for the misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia.

In most jurisdictions, as we frequent fliers of the criminal justice system here in Tennessee know, you’ll likely be given anywhere from six months’ to a year’s probation, along with court fees. You can choose to plead guilty to possession of drug paraphernalia so you can quickly get back to living in the real world. Many of us are forced to plead guilty in such situations to return to our jobs, parenting, and other real-world obligations that we all have to take care of.

If You Can Afford to Bail Out

Bail out as soon as possible. Hire an attorney who is aware of T.C.A. § 40-7-124. If they’re not already aware of this law, hire another one.

With the help of an attorney, you should be okay.

Please keep in mind that I am not an attorney or otherwise legally approved by the state of Tennessee to provide legal advice. Do not take any information listed in this article or on this website as legal advice. The only people who can provide reputable, reliable legal advice are people sanctioned by the state of Tennessee to practice law.

If You Can’t Afford to Bail Out

If you’re willing to sit in jail for anywhere from a week to a month, by all means, do it! With a competent public defender’s help, given that you did comply with T.C.A. § 40-7-124, you shouldn’t be prosecuted for being in possession of drug paraphernalia. After all, T.C.A. § 40-7-124 does prevent people in such situations from being charged with or prosecuted for being in possession of drug paraphernalia.

However, most of us in Tennessee aren’t willing to do this.

Most of us are also too poor to afford legal representation. There are, however, ways for impoverished Tennesseeans to seek out free legal assistance.

Most drug users in Northwest Tennessee (NWTN) are simply too poor to bail out of jail and pay for an attorney. NWTN is simply a greatly-impoverished area. Considering that drug users, as a socioeconomic class, don’t have the same access to financial and other resources, especially here in NWTN, you’ll likely fit under this category — not being able to afford posting cash bail.

That’s Right — Unfortunately, As It Stands, We’re Shit Outta Luck

Again, I’m not an attorney, and I certainly hope I’m not acting like one.

As it stands, even though T.C.A. § 40-7-124 should protect active drug users from being in possession of sharp objects used as drug paraphernalia from getting charged with or prosecuted for being in possession of drug paraphernalia, T.C.A. § 39-17-425, it’s not helping us.

The only thing we can do — by “we,” I mean everybody interested in harm reduction or drug policy, active drug users, recovering drug users, family members and friends of drug users, etc. — is strive to educate laypeople, law enforcement officers, local and state-level politicians, active drug users, and everybody else here on planet Earth about T.C.A. § 40-7-124.

What Can We Do?

Also, anybody and everybody who plans on talking about this stuff to others, whether that be on a public forum like Facebook or Twitter or in real-life conversations with family members, friends, community members, coworkers, peers, or others, make sure to do so in a friendly, calm, welcoming, well-thought-out manner!

Keep in mind that, as far as law enforcement agents are concerned, they regularly hear backtalk and criticism from individuals and society at large. Also, they are the only people who actually enforce laws for a living. They’ve been trained to do this, likely are required to be trained or educated on an ongoing basis, and quite literally put their health and welfare on the line while enforcing laws.

Some, if not many, are generally not willing to listen to people who are not professional law enforcement officers talk about laws and their enforcement in real-world scenarios.

The best way — as far as I know — to get through to pliable, open-minded law enforcement officers would be to first approach friends and family members who are in the field about T.C.A. § 40-7-124 and similar laws.

If you talk to or work with law enforcement regularly, you know exactly how to handle this. For the rest of us who aren’t fortunate enough to be well-versed in educating, informing, or simply being around law enforcement officers, you could benefit from using this harm-reducing brochure — it’s called “Sticks, Pricks & Pokes: a Law That Protects LEO From Needlestick Injury” and is about T.C.A. § 40-7-124 specifically:

Again — and above all else — make sure to be kind, open-minded, well-researched, and nice in sharing information about T.C.A. § 40-7-124 with others. This holds true for talking about other laws, both those in Tennessee and elsewhere, that protect drug users, and otherwise advancing the causes of drug policy reform and the adoption of harm-reduction-related policies and practices.

Disclaimer

I am not an attorney. I am not licensed to practice law in the state of Tennessee or elsewhere within the United States. I have never studied law. I have never worked under the supervision of anyone who was, or currently is, sanctioned by any local, state, or federal government to practice law. The advice given herein is not meant to take the place of advice from an attorney, legal consultant, or anyone else who is licensed to practice law in Tennessee or elsewhere.

If you find yourself in a situation outlined above or otherwise related to T.C.A. § 40-7-124, T.C.A. § 39-17-415, or other laws, you should consult an attorney who is licensed to practice law in the state of Tennessee.

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From Personal Experience Harm Reduction The Volunteer State

Area-Specific Challenges in Northwest Tennessee

To my knowledge, very few people in Northwest Tennessee (NWTN) are either familiar with harm reduction or supporters of it, let alone active in distributing supplies or educating others.

There are no programs engaged in harm reduction in this region, with the exception of programs that engage in the distribution of naloxone, usually in the form of the name-brand, nasal-spray formulation known as Narcan. That’s all they do, unfortunately.

The More Rural the Area, the More Discretion That’s Exercised

In my experience, this holds true in NWTN. Everyone who has ever lived in a small town knows all too well that community members know about your business before even you are keyed in to what’s going on! At least, it seems to be that way.

Discretion, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, refers to “[the] quality of behaving or speaking in such a way as to avoid causing offense or revealing confidential information.” If I exercise discretion in telling you something, for example, I simply won’t come out and say it.

Due to the fast spread of information in tight-knit, rural communities, illicit drug users are particularly more likely to exercise discretion than the general population. The more risqué their drugs of choice, preferred routes of drug administration, and lifestyle choices are, the less likely NWTN residents are to share socially-frowned-upon information about themselves.

This makes it particularly difficult to reach the people who need help most, such as injection drug users (IDUs) or those who regularly consume illicit street heroin. I say these people need help most because they are statistically shown to be more at-risk than most other portions of the greater drug-using population.

In my experience, and in my opinion, a principal issue related to drug use that currently plagues NWTN is the unwillingness of drug users and all others involved in the world of illicit drugs — as well as their family members, friends, and other associates — to share their habits with others.

Most Drug Users Aren’t Aware of Basic Harm-Reduction-Related Things

Drug users, ostensibly, just like any other group of people, would be in favor of doing or supporting things that improve their quality of life. One of these many possible things is understanding how and when to administer naloxone, whether or not their drug(s) of choice are opioids. Another one might be regularly sharing harm reduction-related information with one another so as to improve their peers’ health.

Unfortunately, in my experience, most NWTN drug users — including opioid-primary or opioid-exclusive users — are not even aware of what naloxone is. Some are familiar with Narcan — it’s naloxone, but most here can’t tell you the differences or similarities between Narcan and naloxone — though few of these people even have access to the opioid overdose reversal agent.

Such as Syringe Availability

The same goes with having clean, legal access to hypodermic syringes. The majority of injection drug users in NWTN source syringes through one of two means:

• A friend, family member, or associate who has diabetes and a prescription for injectable insulin. Typically, these people don’t pay for syringes.
• A friend, drug dealer, or associate who sell syringes via a black-market manner.

There are obvious disadvantages to sourcing syringes through secondary sources, such as not knowing whether they’ve been used or not. Already-used units obviously increase the chance of developing infections, spreading blood-borne diseases, and otherwise causing soft-tissue damage.

In Tennessee, fortunately, it is legal to receive syringes without a prescription. Tennessee residents can readily purchase syringes suitable for injection drug use online from medical or diabetes supply stores either in or out of state. They can also source syringes from organizations such as the Harm Reduction Coalition — for free, too!

Further, there are syringe exchanges here in West Tennessee, for example, but only in Memphis, the only city in the region. There are a few syringe services programs in East Tennessee, too, but only one is in a rural area. That happens to be the only rural-based SSP in all of the Volunteer State.

Law Enforcement Officers Aren’t Well-Versed in Laws That Protect Drug Users

No law enforcement officer wants to handle hypodermic syringes in their line of duty. Unfortunately, in reality, they’re likely to cross paths with used syringes on a reasonably-frequent basis.

In Tennessee, our state book of laws is known as Tennessee Code Annotated. It contains 71 individual titles, each of which is broken down into several chapters, which are further broken down into sections.

That’s a lot of laws to learn!

I can’t expect every Tennessee law enforcement officer to be aware of all state laws. However, they should be well aware of all those that protect themselves from things like not knowing where apprehendees’ used syringes are, should they be in possession of them.

One such example is with T.C.A. § 40-7-124 — Tennessee Code Annotated Title 40, Chapter 7, Section 124 — which protects people in the possession of syringes used as drug paraphernalia from getting charged with being in possession of drug paraphernalia.

Here’s how it works: after getting pulled over or otherwise approached by law enforcement and before being searched, as long as you inform the officer(s) that you’re in possession of syringes and point them toward the general location of said syringes, you cannot get charged or prosecuted with violation of drug paraphernalia statutes for those syringes.

Unfortunately, many law enforcement officers in NWTN — also, presumably, elsewhere around the state of Tennessee — aren’t aware of laws that help or protect drug users such as T.C.A. § 40-7-124.

There Aren’t Many Programs That Help Drug Users Here

Of course, there are some programs that help drug users in rural West Tennessee, but there aren’t many.

Just like everywhere else, we have rehabs, which are designed to help drug users get over their struggles with substance use disorder. We also have our lovely Regional Overdose Prevention Specialist, Melesa Lassiter, who distributes naloxone to community members and trains them in using naloxone.

Outside of this, there aren’t really any programs designed to help drug users here in Northwest Tennessee.

In Conclusion

Obviously, I didn’t include any solutions to the issues identified in this post. The purpose of this document is simply to explain to outsiders some of the issues that plague drug users in NWTN.

Please reach out to me with any questions or concerns. I don’t know too many people who are down with the cause in Northwest Tennessee, so, if you are — or even if you don’t live in NWTN — please reach out.