Battling Addiction: Dionna King, Vital Strategies

Gerren Keith Gaynor: [00:00:03] Welcome to Dear Culture, the podcast that gives you news, you can trust for the culture. I’m your co-host, Gerren Keith Gaynor, Managing Editor at theGrio.[00:00:10][6.7]

Shana Pinnock: [00:00:10] And I’m Shana Pinnock, Social Media Director at theGrio. And this week, we’re asking, Dear Culture, how will we ever overcome the battle of addiction? [00:00:19][8.6]

Gerren Keith Gaynor: [00:00:28] So Shana before we get into this very serious and heavy episode, first, tell me what’s on your mind this week. [00:00:36][7.8]

Shana Pinnock: [00:00:37] Well, first off, welcome back G, we missed you. It’s so wonderful to see your face. But, so for me, this week, it is National Suicide Awareness Week. And this is an issue that actually it’s very personal, near and dear to me, hits very close to home. We’ve talked about it on this show before about my own, you know, suicide attempts and battles with depression, et cetera. Just last week, she– she now admittedly, she’s not Black doesn’t mean that she doesn’t count. But a indie wrestler, her stage name was Daphne. She had appeared on Instagram live and very much so in crisis and had a pistol in her hand. And she’s like talking into the camera and she’s crying about how feeling like she’s so alone, like, do you guys not understand that I’m so alone? And then she kind of apologizes and then ends the live. If you’re not a wrestling fan, I’m sure you’re you don’t really know. But wrestling– wrestling fans are very it’s a very close-knit family, very close-knit circle. So a lot of people in the wrestling community, both wrestlers and fans like myself, saw it. And everyone is just like sending her messages and trying to reach out to her. Even wrestlers like Mick Foley. I know y’all know who Mick Foley is. Mankind, Cactus Jack all those people. Yes. Mick Foley was trying to reach out to her. There was a lot of people on Twitter just trying to get in contact with her. Unfortunately, the following morning, she was discovered by authorities as having to have died by suicide. As a person who, again, I’ve had my own battles with that, I still have the note that I wrote to my family back in– family and friends back in twenty fifteen. I keep that as a reminder to myself as very much so a, that was probably the darkest time in my life. And to look at that letter now six years later and being like, wow, there’s so many amazing things and so many amazing people that I’ve come across that I never would have had I decided that I could no longer take this thing called life anymore. I would have been at theGrio. I wouldn’t have this amazing job with these amazing people and my awesome team and folks like Gerren, you know, and doing things like meeting my brother and my niece and my nephews, you know, none of this falling in love again, like none of this would have been able to happen had I opted out. So with that being said, I just want to acknowledge, like especially this past year and a half has been wretched for all of us in some kind of way. And I know that this is the time where you probably feel the most alone. This is a time where you probably are just like, what’s the point? There’s I know I’m dealing with seasonal depression right now, you know, feeling like there’s just this air of despair and it’s just around like, does anything even matter if we’re all going to, like, just die tomorrow? covid is out here. Taliban is out, you know, like what’s going on? I just want to say it does get better, and and you are not alone. You are not alone. You are not alone. And if you are feeling that the darkness is starting to sound a whole lot louder than all of the other good in your life, then please, please, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. That’s 1 800-273-8255. Please do not feel afraid or like you’re going to be a burden to help to the to to to ask for help or to ask for support. There have been plenty of times where I’ve been a babble of tears and I’m like, I don’t want to call anybody. And I’m like, you know what? This is going to get really bad. I need to call somebody just to at least talk something out. So if you feel like you can’t do that with your own family or friends, please call that that hotline. Your life matters, and I just pray that we all can continue to try to get through it. I promise it gets better and there’s always light at the end of the tunnel. [00:05:21][284.5]

Gerren Keith Gaynor: [00:05:21] Indeed. And thank you, Shanna, for just being vulnerable. And I’m so happy that letter never had to come to fruition because your light is felt and is needed in this world and, you know, always got you girl. If you ever want to talk. I’m always here. But it’s so important to still hold space for people because we all, we all suffer in some way. We all cope with depression here and there, some of some of us more severe than others. And this is really important for us to talk about it in open public spaces so that people know that you’re not the only one dealing with these with these things its part of life. What’s on my mind this week? Obviously now I’ve been gone for the past two weeks. Shout out to Courtney for filling in for me and shout out to Shanna of the holding it down all by herself. And I was away on vacation in Barcelona, Spain. It started out as a great trip. It was me and nine other Black gay men. All of us were US citizens. And we were unfortunately burglarized after a great beach day in Sitges, which is like right outside Barcelona. We came home around 2:00 in the morning. Well, five of us came home. The other five stayed behind to enjoy Sitges. We got home and I go into my room and I immediately noticed that my carry-on bag is just missing. And I’m like, you know, it’s again, two o’clock in the morning. We have been drinking all day and we took shots on shots on shots. Is vacation, Right? So and then I noticed that my large suitcase was opened, which I knew I left closed. I saw some of my clothes kind of like rummaged around. And I look on my the other bed, my roommate’s bed, and I see my wallets. I had like two wallets that I wasn’t carrying on me that they had nothing in them, thank God. But they were like rummaging through my wallets. So I go downstairs, I’m like, hey guys, I think we were robbed. And at first it was disbelieving. I think it hadn’t really settled in yet. And once we realized that we were indeed robbed, that someone was in the home while we were not, there was an Airbnb. And so it was immediate feeling of violation to get to know that some stranger came into the space that you were in this intimate space, went through your things, stole your things. I had a lot of valuables in that carry on bag. But, you know, things are things can be replaced. And I’m just thankful that no one was harmed, that no one was home when this happened. But the saga got worse because my friend, who was my roommate, he had a Louis Vuitton duffel bag in the room. And it was it was it was stolen. He had tens of thousands of things in this bag, designer wear, jewelry, cash, but also sentimental things like his grandmother’s wedding ring that she had for decades and she had passed away. And he takes it everywhere that he goes. And on top of that, his passport and his green card were in that bag. So now he’s stuck in Spain. And so so he I look, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a grown man cry that way. But when I tell you he broke down, he broke down. And I had to console him for about an hour. And it was just really stressful because when you’re overseas in another country, you expect police to show up like they do in America. And the police were very nonchalant. It took them like forty five minutes to get to the house. And when they did, after we told them what happened, we showed them around the house because there was like, you know, there was some evidence of a break in. They were like, oh, you can’t we don’t do police reports. You have to go to a police station. And we’re like, So why are you here? So we the next morning, because we were really tired. So we we tried to get some sleep. We really didn’t get much sleep because we were so shaken that we couldn’t even sleep in our rooms. We cuddled together on the couch and just like and tried to get some sleep, go to the police station. They said there’s one other police station. And then we were in there for about four to five hours with a translator to tell them what happened for the police report. Then they go through like the itemization of all the things that you lost and is value. It was a long, arduous process. And then after that, we had to then help my friend get the necessary documents that he needed to be able to come back home because he lives in Atlanta. He is a he’s a British citizen. And so he had to go to the British embassy to get a temporary passport and then go to the US embassy for a temporary document for his immigration status, we go to the embassy in Barcelona and they’re like, oh, you have to go to Madrid, Spain. So I had to fly from Barcelona to Madrid. He gets there. He realizes that the process is yet to go online. You got to make an appointment with the embassy to pay a fee for the document. You show up, they interview you, and then presumably they give you the document. Well, he put his information in the computer system and is saying that his records are not matching their records, like his information is not matching their records. And so he’s like, fine, I’ll just show up at the embassy. He shows up. The guards barely speak English at the US embassy, barely speak English. He tells them what happened. They’re like, no, you have to go online. We all want to hear it. You can’t get past us. And so he’s just stuck. So me obviously being knowing some people I’m calling April Ryan our White House correspondent because he’s very connected in government. I’m calling people I know in the administration, like, can you help? What can you do? And I spent my entire flight coming back to the US worrying about him, trying to contact people, had to buy Wi-Fi. You know, Wi-Fi is not is not cheap on these not internationally on the plane. I’m just like emailing people. I’m texting people. It was a process. By the end of the night, I was on three way with my congressman, Hank Johnson and April Ryan trying to help him because he represents Georgia, trying to help my friend. Long story short, we didn’t have to go that route. He tried again. It worked. I don’t know what happened. Don’t know if it was because we were making phone calls. But he is now home in Atlanta. But the take away is, be careful when you travel overseas. I will never do Airbnb internationally ever again. And also be careful about how you move. You just never know who’s watching. We were ten Black men, Americans, gay. So we were obviously we obviously stood out a lot. Everywhere we went, we drove two cars. It was a BMW or Mercedes. So like, you know, people are watching. And, you know, it’s unfortunate because for me, it’s like we are ten successful Black men and want to enjoy vacation and we shouldn’t have to hide. You know, we want to live in luxury and we shouldn’t have to diminish that to prevent being burglarized. But much like here in the US, you do have to watch your surroundings and be careful was very traumatic. I’ve been able to process it more. But overall, the take away is that I’m just thankful that no one was harmed and things can be replaced. And anything that I lost I know is nothing compared to my life. And it was a lot of learning lessons. But I’m just glad that everyone’s OK and that my friend is home and we’ll be able to rebuild. You know, that’s just it’s unfortunate in the unfortunate event. But I learned a lot of things from this situation and it’s not going to stop me from traveling. [00:13:13][471.8]

Shana Pinnock: [00:13:13] So listen, in any of our Grio fam, if you are into the, you know, people who call it voodoo or whatever, you know, if you into the spiritual realm, you go ahead. You you say some words for Gerren and Gerren’s friends, OK, whoever stole those items, nothing good will come to you. All right. You got to you got to believe from Color Purple that until you do right by me. So include including the Spanish cops. No, no, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I had to [00:13:46][32.2]

Gerren Keith Gaynor: [00:13:46] deal with that much. But this week we’re are talking about drug abuse, a very serious topic, which is very heavy in the US, particularly in Black and brown communities. There are global health organizations that believe every person should be protected by a strong public health system. Vital Strategies works withboth governments and civil society in seventy three countries to design and implement evidence based strategies that tackle the most pressing public health challenges. Their goal is to see government adopt promising and rapid-scale intervention. To find out more, please visit www.vitalstrategies. org [00:14:24][38.2]

Shana Pinnock: [00:14:25] For at least the third time this year, the Black community is trying to make sense of yet another death of a Black icon that has been linked to a possible drug overdose. Loved and celebrated actor Michael K. Williams died at just fifty four years old on Monday. And according to the Associated Press, the NYPD is investigating the actor’s passing as a possible overdose due to the presence of drug paraphernalia in his residence. And authorities are looking for his alleged dealer. We, of course, lost legendary rappers and music pioneers DMX and Shock G in a similar manner just a few months ago. And other legends such as Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson and Prince and younger folks like rapper JuiceWRLD have also come to similar circumstances. These tragic losses underscore just how heavily Black and other communities of color are disproportionate. Affected by addiction, as UCLA researchers report, an overall increase of 42 percent in overdose deaths in 2020, and of that subset, the largest increase was for Black people with a spike of more than 50 percent in overdose deaths. We’ll be joined with a drug prevention expert, Diana King. And together, we’ll be taking a look at the realities and some of the misconceptions of addiction, how the pandemic is making matters worse and reflecting on some of the lives lost to this disease. Let’s get into it. [00:15:38][73.6]

Gerren Keith Gaynor: [00:15:39] So, Shanna, before we get into some stats and numbers around addiction, we have to acknowledge the unfortunate passing of actor Michael K. Williams. His life and legacy will live on forever through his art. And I wanted to ask you what made him so impactful and iconic in our community in particular? [00:16:05][26.5]

Shana Pinnock: [00:16:06] Well, I mean, do you and I are both from Brooklyn. OK, so if you if you lived and grew up in Brooklyn, quite frankly, Michael Williams is like Jadakiss. He outside, OK? He was out there just dancing the house music and all this other stuff. I know a lot of people remember him from as Omar Little from the wire. I might get my Black card revoked, but, you know, confessional moment have haven’t finished the wire. I know, I know it’ll happen eventually. But, you know I’m only have to season two. But for me, Michael Williams has had so many pivotal roles. But I think one of his most recent as Montreaux Montreaux Freeman in Lovecraft country has been it was just it was amazing to watch it. It was beautiful to watch, you know, him portraying this this closeted man who I mean, well, we didn’t know if he was Atticus’s actual daddy or not, but, you know, sorry spoiler alert, but, you know, he he played such a complex character, you know, someone who in terms of the Black experience and that unfortunately applies to a lot of our older Black men. You know, I can say for my father from this aspect of like being abused by your your father or a parent or something like that, you know, him basically having especially I know a lot of our gay Black brothers have had this experience of where your family’s trying to beat the gay out of you, you know what I mean? Like, it’s he played some it was just it was it was pivotal. It was beautiful. And one of my favorite episodes is when he’s finally, like, hanging out, he’s with he’s with the girls, honey, and he’s out here and he’s like a drag queen. I’d like a drag party. And he just starts to dance and you just see the joy. And first off, I love that because I think that was an amazing juxtaposition of, you know, of Montreaux character, but also Michael K. Williams, if you don’t know Michael K. Williams danced, his behind off, OK, on a regular degular. And quite frankly, that is how I choose to remember him. That seemed like such a joyous and authentic moment, not just for the character that Michael was playing, but for him as well. And I think that’s just something that’s beautiful to see. And whether I don’t know that man’s sexuality, you know, that’s not my business, but him being unafraid and unabashed to play those characters and to give complexity to those characters. And he stole the scene in everything that he played. I don’t care if he was on it for one second or or 18 episodes. You were paying attention to Michael K. Williams, his character. And I think that’s just it’s a it’s an amazing and it’s it’s a true testament to his light and his spirit. What about you, G? [00:19:07][180.5]

Gerren Keith Gaynor: [00:19:08] And we’re sending love to Michael K. Williams family and friends and all those in Hollywood who knew him and loved him. I just want to say that there’s been discussions around his death, and I really want us to make sure that we remember that he was a full human being who was talented and dynamic. And he wasn’t just how he died. And if you want to help remember his legacy, visit theGrio.com. We have amazing op ed from Ernest Owens, who writes about the impact of his roles and how it the impact it had on him as a Black gay man and just of the LGBTQ plus community at large to see a Black man on screen be queer and not be stereotypical. I also Shana, did not watch The Wire, unfortunately, and I definitely plan to watch it now, too, to honor him and honor his work. But that role meant so much to those who did watch it and didn’t necessarily see themselves reflected on television. I just my heart goes, oh, I hate when we have to talk about these unfortunate deaths, but he lives on through his art and that’s the way that I will choose to remember him. This week’s guest is Dionna King, program manager for Vital Strategies Overdose Prevention Program. Since joining the team, Diana has established partnerships that have led to the development of innovative projects such as harm reduction delivery units using medical vending machines, mobile outreach vehicles that will provide naloxone and other harm reduction supplies, and a toolkit for health care workers who support parenting and pregnant people who use drugs. Dionna has worked in the realms of public health and criminal justice reform policy and advocacy for several years. She is an alum of the New School and Florida A&M University and is presently enrolled in John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health before joining Vital Strategies. She worked at the Drug Policy Alliance, where she developed the foundation of their race and mass criminalization campaign. Welcome, Diana, to your culture is such a pleasure to have you. [00:21:23][134.8]

Dionna King: [00:21:23] Yeah, thank you for inviting me. Thank you for organizing this panel, conversation. [00:21:27][3.6]

Shana Pinnock: [00:21:28] Fellow HBCU. [00:21:29][0.4]

Gerren Keith Gaynor: [00:21:29] William, we love our HBCUs. So first I want to first ask you, because drug addiction and drug abuse is not often talked about and not, in my opinion, in healthy ways. What are some misconceptions about drug use and addiction that you’ve seen that should be corrected or unlearned? [00:21:49][19.7]

Dionna King: [00:21:50] I think primarily it really just comes down to language to start. So I think we have to acknowledge that substance use is just a part of our culture as a part of our experience. And not everyone who uses drugs is going to experience dependance, a behavioral addiction. So I think it makes it we have to start by acknowledging the fact that it’s a part of the human experience and in that acknowledgment, create pathways to healthy use. If there is a person experiencing misuse or dependance and it’s affecting their or their health or their well-being, then it’s a matter of making sure that they have access to whatever treatment or harm reduction that they feel is needed. At the moment, I feel like our drug policy throughout modern history has really reinforced the notion that abstinence is the best practice is the only way to live a life if you have any experience with substance use. And that doesn’t work for a lot of people. So with harm reduction, we acknowledge that there is many pathways to health and that includes substance use for a particular person, but wanting to make sure that that person is using with all the tools and strategies needed in order to to maintain their health and well-being. [00:23:07][76.7]

Shana Pinnock: [00:23:08] Definitely. OK, so critics have described America’s drug war, quote unquote, as a two track system. So for whites and those financially well off color and race, sometimes notwithstanding, substance abuse disorder is perceived as a survivable illness. Right. Whereas for people of color and poorer Americans who struggle with drug addiction, they’re more for their more frequently faced with incarceration. What do you think is like how do we go about fixing this, whether that’s government wise as well as just overall, just culturally? [00:23:42][34.8]

Dionna King: [00:23:44] Yeah, I mean, with the emergence of the overdose crisis and heroin and Fentynal contributing to overdose deaths among younger, whiter, more rural and more affluent people use drugs. There was at least a rhetorical shift to policies that promote public health and health care. But if you’re working in the field and practice, you’re not really seeing that shift contribute to a change in policies overall. Like we still have criminalization and we still people are still encountering arrest across race and gender because of substance use. Yes, white people have engendered this more sympathetic consideration of who uses drugs. But what we’re seeing is not necessarily that changing in public policy, and that’s where we need the work done. So, for instance, I work in New Jersey and in Atlantic City, there is a harm reduction program that’s been working, operating for over 20 years, providing services to people who use drugs and people who experience HIV and AIDS. And that program is currently facing closure. And that program reaches a number of people, Black and white, regardless. But so what we’re seeing is like no matter which race is associated with substance use, we still haven’t really separated ourselves from drug policy that is largely punitive. Any sort of attempts to sort of erode that that historical dependance on punishment as a policy has not been enough to address this magnanimous industry that criminalizes that. Places, people and treatment settings that don’t promote their health or their well-being. There’s just a lot to undo to address the drug war. And I feel like we’re kind of stuck at rhetorical flourishes as opposed to actual investments and health care and good policy. [00:25:43][119.9]

Gerren Keith Gaynor: [00:25:44] And obviously, we know in Black and brown communities, drug abuse is incredibly felt. But oftentimes I find that we don’t talk enough about it is kind of like much like how we talk about sex. We talk about drugs is kind of hush hush. In your opinion, why do you think we have such a hard time as a community discussing drug abuse? [00:26:07][23.2]

Dionna King: [00:26:09] I wouldn’t say that’s specific to just just Black people. I feel like drug use has been stigmatized throughout the country, which makes it difficult for anyone to be transparent about their substance use, both within their community overall and within their intimate family relationships. We just created this dynamic around substance use that has made it really difficult for a person to use drugs to to get help and support because they can’t find a place to to have honest conversations about their experience and get the kind of support that they need. That’s not really being dictated by people who have like a single set of ideas around, like the appropriate responses to substance use. I think with Black people specifically, there’s just been so much harm done to our community overall attached to the drug war. So there is this desire to. To have no one use because we’ve seen how damaging it can be not just to someone’s individual health, but to kind of the criminalization of substance use in the kind of traps a person can be placed in if they’re arrested, if they have any contact with children, family services, if they have any if they’re in a public housing and they lose their housing. So it’s just been this really and understood sort of clamp down to just. Try to eliminate substance use and just promote this dress. Just say no policy within people’s families. But the people’s relationships, because we know that Black people might not be afforded the same kind of grace and access to services that someone else who’s more public might experience. But I do think overall, we nationally have a problem with addressing substance use as a part of our society and in creating pathways to care and pathways to harm reduction that acknowledge that a person’s use might be where they’re at right now and that they’re not necessarily open to to treatment. But they might be open to some other form of care because they do want to live. We’re just not there yet. [00:28:19][129.8]

Shana Pinnock: [00:28:20] So from and I mean, in your professional capacity, I don’t know if you can speak to especially as it relates to like the youth and their drug use. So I have a member of my family who is an addict. I’m sure there are there are others. But I have a particular member of my family who is an addict who is younger than I am. And something that I found is drug use, especially like we’re talking about pill popping and we’re talking about opioids and lean, all that stuff. It’s very much so, you know, celebrated in like the entertainment industry. Right. Have you seen just from your personal experiences, like a young like the younger generation that has started to do Here Goes The Lean and let’s pop a xan to have a good time or anything like that? Like what? What has been your experience on that end? Or was it more is it something else? Maybe they’re not being influenced by the entertainment industry and rappers or any of that stuff. [00:29:25][65.3]

Dionna King: [00:29:26] I just want to start by going back to language. We try to use persons in our language when it comes to substance use. I’m sorry about your family member, but this is a young person who uses drugs as opposed to labeling them as an addict. That kind of keeps them stuck in that position where they kind of lose their personhood. And as far as young people and experimentation like that has always been a part of youth culture to have some level of experimentation and using for pleasure, using a social settings, using for fun. So I think work and my work and my is my past experience. Working with the Drug Policy Alliance, we’ve always tried to educate young people about safe use as opposed to discouraging all young people from using drugs, because we know that that’s probably not going to happen. Like they are giving them all the information about the harms and how often they’re still going to make their own individual choice. What you can do is give them information that they need in order to safely create a safe environment for them to come forward, that they are experiencing problematic use. And I do want some level of support and care making sure that treatment and harm reduction services are exclusionary people, because I think there’s this desire to keep young people away from drugs to the point where they don’t have any services available to them because they start them at 18, as opposed to acknowledging that young people are experimenting and using substance and might need some help and support and those services should be available to them. So I think it’s just a matter of acknowledging it that it’s happening as opposed to trying to put all of our health policy dollars into prevention of use. We should be doing that, educating people about some of the harms of substance use, but also really putting a lot of energy into preventing some of the harms of misuse and dependance and experiencing addiction. So making sure that people are getting the care that they need. [00:31:31][124.7]

Gerren Keith Gaynor: [00:31:31] And we recently we’ve seen a few high profile deaths by overdose. And recently there was a death of Michael K. Williams and it’s alleged they may have drugs, may have played a factor in his death. And we’ve been seeing this time and time again, I think about even famous celebrities like Whitney Houston and Prince and Michael Jackson. And this conversation around drugs often comes up. And I feel like we don’t really take the time to really let it sink in and really have real conversations around drugs. What do you think the takeaway should be and how do you think we how should we cope or make sense of these unfortunate deaths and or any personal feeling you have to these unfortunate losses? [00:32:17][45.9]

Dionna King: [00:32:18] Yeah, I mean, I had stepped away from my phone for a minute and then just checked the news and saw the the breaking news story about Michael Williams. And it’s really heartbreaking. All the deaths that we’ve experienced. We’ve lost ninety three thousand people over the this year. Twenty twenty eight to overdose death, and I think the one takeaway that I want everyone to sort of just absorb is that overdose deaths are policy failures and these are preventable deaths. I was reading a story about Michael Williams, about losing contact with his family members of the people who loved him for a couple of days because he had went to to Newark to use. And in that time, he lost. His phone had lost and people were trying to find him. And I think that’s such a high risk situation. So for someone with all the resources that this person has and other celebrities who have the resources that they need it to maybe use in a safer way, did not have the spaces to go to where that was possible. So we in this country, we don’t have safe assumption spaces, safe assumption spaces are medically supervised spaces where people can use under the care of a nurse or a doctor. They exist in Canada, they exist throughout Europe, and they’re a way for people to use in a safe way. So if there’s something that has happened to people need medical support, they can get that immediately. But we try to do is encourage people to never use alone, because in that situation, there’s no one to respond to you if you need help. But with covid missing people in isolation. We’re seeing people who need social support. They’re experiencing mental health challenges related to this very difficult year. There’s not the spaces where people can turn to where they can access resources if they find themselves either experiencing upticks in substance use or have just just need someplace to go and use safely. And I think it’s just really disheartening because it does happen so frequently and people mourn, but it doesn’t necessarily lead to any action. And I feel like some of these deaths, we talk about them as if they weren’t preventable, like Prince did not have to pass away. Whitney Houston had been given the proper medical support to it. If she had care for whatever cardiovascular symptoms she was experiencing related to her prolonged cocaine use, like maybe there are other things that could have happened to sort of mitigate the harms of that acute overdose. And I think we’re upset. I see people I see people of mine sort of turning into demonizing the person for using drugs and sort of blaming them for their own demise. And like that, it’s just a really harmful approach to this. And it really leads to some of the policies that criminalized and stigmatized substances. What we do need to start putting forward are individuals that we know that that work like safe consumption spaces, like harm reduction supplies and resources like safe supply, like all these things that we know are helpful if we have a drug supply that is laced with fentynal at this point to the point where you don’t know what you’re getting. We have people self-selecting fits and all, but understanding that there’s risk associated with that and they need to have access to immediate medical care. If something were to go sideways, I think we talk about overdose as if there are no solutions. And what we have is a lack of political will to implement what we know works well. [00:35:56][217.9]

Shana Pinnock: [00:35:57] So first off, I want to go back and say thank you for correcting me on that. The addict language thinking I didn’t know that. Thank you. We appreciate that. And I love what you just said, that these are policy failures. And I were having this discussion a bit earlier today where I said, I think one of the issues is that we as a culture especially but I even go so far as to say a society so we can include white folks in this as well. We tend to mistake drug addiction as a moral issue and not a medical issue, which is a huge problem. What do you what is your advice to those of us in the community who may not be using or abusing substances in that way, but maybe we have friends or family or anything like that, like how do we reach those people? Because, again, maybe it’s not don’t do drugs. And let me show let me shove a DARE shirt in your face. You know, maybe it’s just OK. Well, if you are going to do it, let’s figure out, you know, how to do it safely or maybe we can ween you off of it or something like that. Like what would be your advice to those of us who are watching family members and friends who are kind of dealing with this battle? [00:37:10][73.6]

Dionna King: [00:37:11] Yeah, I mean, but what we say harm reduction is that we we want to meet people where they are. So you might have a desire to see your family member, your loved one, in a different relationship to substance use that might not line up where they’re at right now. So I think it this all starts with a conversation. And I think what is difficult is that a lot of people are just left alone with their substance use, their left alone. Because we treat it as this this moral failing, like you said, and they can’t come to any one for support, so even just acknowledgment like I see you understand that this is happening. I still love you. Like, I don’t think you are in any way depraved or how we talk about people use drugs as if they’re not real people because of their relationship to a substance. So just even starting there, I think a lot of people don’t know about harm reduction resources. So like people don’t know about naloxone unless you’re in this world and it’s like a common part of your your everyday workday is becomes part of your parlance. But if you’re a person you know about, a person is using opioids and the heroin van and all like to be able to talk to them and say, like, OK, like, do you know how to access Narcan? Like, let me make sure you have that. Do you know how to use safely? Like, I will make sure that you’re not using alone, like even if it’s a matter of making a phone call to somebody and saying, hey, I’m use right now, can you to stay on the phone with me? And if you don’t, if something happens, call nine one one. There is a website called Never Use Alone that offers that as a resource and support, because we know that if someone doesn’t get emergency care at that immediate immediately after overdose, that they’re more likely to die. Unfortunately, because I think it’s just a matter of like knowing what resources are available, making yourself available as a resource, as a support, as a person who’s not going to shy away from this person because they know this is happening and then sort of taking their lead. And I want to say it’s not difficult to say that if someone was experiencing chaotic substance use and it’s affecting their behavior, expecting how it’s affecting how you two are relating like that, that is difficult. And it’s a lot to carry, but it’s definitely harder to carry alone if it’s a part of a community response or part of your family response to something that might be a little bit easier to share. Like I’ll speak to my partner about this yesterday that like when my I’ve had family members struggle and when we found out or when my parents found out they were keeping it away from us, I think the response was just to keep us away from them and like sort of icing out that family member as opposed to getting closer to them and making sure that we’re safe. And people feel the harm of that. They feel the loneliness of that. And that can only make someone’s use worse if they’re feeling more isolated or feeling more depressed. We want to make sure that people have community and not isolated and let alone with just their substance use if they are experiencing issues. [00:40:22][190.9]

Shana Pinnock: [00:40:23] So I guess another part of this, I think that we tend to. Failed to connect, is that a lot of times the the the drug addiction or substance abuse issues, it really does have a tie in to, like, mental health. Right. So what kind of programs? I mean, it’s very easy to just be like we’ll go take yo behind the therapy. You know, it’s very easy to say that what other, like mental health resources are available for people as part of maybe. Is that a part of harm reduction or is that something else that’s being offered to folks who just how can we how can we keep people alive? [00:41:07][43.9]

Dionna King: [00:41:09] That is that is the case. I mean, I feel like one of the one of the things that like is an annoyance, wondering how the drug war is the bifurcation of substance use in mental health within government agencies and practices like if a person is experiencing mental health issues and they need care, they can’t get that in the same place sometimes. And in a in a substance use context or setting, you really bifurcated those two systems of care because of the way that drug use is stigmatized. And then gradually mental health was considered something that needed health care, but that still to work. And then those two systems never sort of coalesced. So, yeah, there are a lot of people with comorbidities and they would benefit from receiving their care in a single setting as opposed to making them go back and forth between like a mental health care area and then help and harm reduction treatment setting. And like that is a failure of the system. I am encouraged by programs like in Oakland as a place call center for Harm Reduction Therapy, and they are meeting both of those needs, like providing therapeutic care and then providing production support and mobile outreach services. I feel like there’s interventions are out there. They just need support. They need funding that they need and need uptake. And I feel like I kind of want folks to move out of this place of powerlessness every time someone. So we lose someone because we’re losing people all the time. Some some of those losses feel heavy because we all have that connection to that person. But these losses are always, always happening. We do have the solutions to address them. [00:42:52][103.7]

Shana Pinnock: [00:42:53] That is powerful. Thank you so much, Diana. From limited access to resources and proper medical care, to the leftover consequences of harmful policies and laws that target our communities, addiction is a disease that many find themselves battling with little to no help. So with that in mind, let’s try our best to treat each other with compassion and do our best to dispel the myths and stigma around the disease so we can help ourselves and one another. Dionna, thank you so much again for joining us. The work that you do is it’s pivotal. It’s important. And we thank you. [00:43:27][33.5]

Dionna King: [00:43:27] Yeah. Thank you for having me on so much. Take care, everyone. [00:43:30][2.8]

Gerren Keith Gaynor: [00:43:39] We want to remind our listeners to please support your local Black businesses and donate to your local organizations and religious institutions, the business that we will highlight this week is Therapy In Color , a database of mental health professionals created to connect Black, indigenous and people of color to a community of healers whose goal is to remove the stigma associated with seeing a therapist. Therapy and Color was founded by psychotherapist Ashley Bryant, who uses the online platform to help marginalized communities overcome trauma and promote exclusivity in the mental health community. To learn more and browse therapists of color in a community near you, visit w w w.therapyincoloro.org, thank you for listening to dear culture. If you like what you heard, please give us a five star review and subscribe to the show wherever you listen to your podcast and share it with everyone you know. [00:44:29][50.5]

Shana Pinnock: [00:44:30] And please email all questions, suggestions, and compliments. We love those, to podcasts@theGrio.com. The Deer Culture Podcast is brought to you by the Grio, an executive produced by Blue Telusma and co-produced by Cameron Blackwell, Taji senior, and Abdul Quddus. [00:44:30][0.0]

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