“It was the hardest boyfriend I ever had to break up with.”
— Fergie, singer, songwriter and actress, on her struggles with substance abuse
If you’ve ever struggled with drug misuse or have watched someone else struggle with it, Fergie’s (Singer with Black Eyed Peas) sentiment probably strikes a chord.
It’s worth noting that not everyone who misuses drugs is addicted to them, but for those who are, it can be very hard to recover from.
Some people might think, “Well, you just have to have willpower.” But as we at Care On Location know, it’s not that easy.
That’s why we are working with the Southern Colorado Harm Reduction Clinic. They work with individuals who are struggling with addiction. Many of whom are struggling specifically with opioids.
So what is an opioid? Opioids include oxycodone and hydrocodone (you might know them as Oxycontin and Vicodin). Do you recognize those names? Opioids are a medication, but they can also be laced into other street drugs or reprocessed into a street drug. Even if prescribed by a clinician, there is still a risk for misuse and addiction.
If you’re not familiar with recovery, you might be wondering why they call it “harm reduction” versus “treatment center.”
Most treatment centers require clients to avoid all drug use/misuse if they are being treated, which means being completely off the drug they’re seeking treatment for. Sometimes treatment centers kick them out of the program if they fail a drug test.
Harm reduction programs, such as the SoCo Harm Reduction Association (SCHRA) in Pueblo, which Care On Location is partnering with, do not dismiss people from the program for any reason. Instead, they provide care and support with no strings attached, no shame, and no mistreatment.
One way they do this is to provide those seeking treatment with NARCAN: a nasal spray that can reverse the effects of the opioid, and patients and their families are trained on how to use it. NARCAN is also used when someone is experiencing an overdose from opioids.
The SCHRA is a nonprofit that supports those experiencing a substance abuse disorder. When someone shows up for support, they find a judgment-free zone.
They will discover a group of certified peer navigators with lived experience of similar situations ready to connect and provide clients with social care resources, social connection, and access to medical resources within the community. Some clients are recently released from jail, while others have simply lost their homes or jobs. Whatever their situation, SCHRA is there to help connect them with social support through other programs.
Peer navigators are trained to teach valuable skills for job placement, finding housing, enrolling in medical and social support programs, and providing a supportive community space for clients to engage with.
On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays the Front Range Clinic, is a substance use treatment provider that offers inclusive harm reduction treatment. They are available to clients seeking help and looking for medical treatment or support. This clinic provides care within SCHRA’s facility because they also know that the SCHRA is a safe and trusted place for their population and want to make sure clients are seen where they feel comfortable accessing care.
SCHRA has a syringe service program as well. People can come in and exchange their used needles for new ones and also leave with a sharps container for storing. This helps keep people from sharing and reusing needles (which means they could be transmitting diseases). SCHRA also provide clean smoking and snorting supplies.
And because needles can be so dangerous, one of their tools for support is to talk with people about using the drug differently, such as smoking it instead of injecting it. This can decrease both their risk of infection and overdose.
They are also given wound kits, hand sanitizer, condoms, and other health-related products. But, most importantly, they are treated as human beings with dignity and respect.
Many people who misuse drugs avoid healthcare. Some can’t afford it. Others don’t have access. But for many, they’re either afraid of being shamed or have suffered mistreatment from other providers in the past.
This is where Care On Location comes in. We believe and are committed to helping people who misuse drugs with compassion and care. They deserve to be treated with respect and dignity when accessing healthcare.
On Mondays and Wednesdays, patients can see our virtual providers with the assistance from one of our clinically skilled EMTs. The EMT uses our MobilTEK hardware kits to connect patients to us while they are there. These kits are equipped to allow us to “see and hear” patients better. We facilitate office visits for patients within SCHRA’s facility, really focusing on delivering care to patients where they feel most safe accessing care.
For those patients who do use needles and who are at high risk for skin infections, we can evaluate wounds and other issues they are experiencing. We can evaluate clients and treat them if they do not need to be referred to higher acuity care. We understand what the client is willing to do when it comes to accessing healthcare and provide care with a harm reduction approach. Patients can also be referred internally to our other behavioral health services which can expedite integrated behavioral and medical treatment and provide whole-person support.
While patients may have experienced shame and mistreatment at other places, Care On Location provides a safe place for care within the SCHRA facility. We can help decrease the chances of any health issues getting worse during recovery and harm reduction.
Our goal is to be there for those who need us and to help all patients feel empowered and advocate for themselves.
This partnership is one of the many ways we provide care to those who need it but may feel left out of the traditional healthcare system. For many of our patients, it’s the closest thing to a doctor’s office visit that they experience.
It is also about community. Our Care Connector is a member of the community. They connect and build relationships with other programs in the area and collaborate with the staff at SCHRA to help clients feel fully supported.
Living with addiction is very difficult and can feel very isolating for those individuals and their support system. For some, it is like Fergie said: struggling to let go of that boyfriend or girlfriend who you love so much but know isn’t good for you. But with harm reduction clinics like the one we’re working with, it is possible to have a judgment-free community of social and medical support.