NEW YORK (WCBS 880) – The growing supply of cheap heroin, much of it laced with the deadly synthetic fentanyl, is worsening the opioid epidemic for an already vulnerable population in the Bronx and Upper Manhattan.
“What we’re saying to them is that we care about them, period,” said Liz Evans, who leads New York Harm Reduction Educators. “Not that we are encouraging them or excited that they’re using drugs. What we’re sending is a different message that yes you are using, and yes we still care about you, and your life still matters to us.”
WCBS reporter Marla Diamond recently accompanied Evans and her partner, Jesse Reid, to an area known for shooting up out of the gaze of law enforcement.
Under an overpass leading up to the George Washington Bridge is a wooded area where you can see a lot of people have been living. There were plastic bags, a suitcase, some boots, and some beer cans. There were also used syringes.
Among all the detritus was a naloxone kit. It had been used to save a life.
Evans and Reid are there almost every day.
Learn More: Killer Tide: Grassroots Groups Join The Fight
“Now we’re going to go around over there, anywhere that’s accessible, and we’re just going to pick up what we can,” Reid said. “Then hopefully if we run into people, that’s when we can provide them with Narcan. We can give them a few clean needles and then we can also direct them to the drop-in center, which is a big part of our role.”
Reid does community outreach for the Washington Heights CORNER Project, where volunteers help connect users with treatment, housing and sterile needles.
“Hi, my name is Harmony, and I’m originally from New Jersey,” one woman said. “I was homeless on the streets in New York, I ran and run in the streets in New York. And I just used this place just to get help. They had different counselors here. They’d also help you with food. And it was really like a home away from home.”
Learn More: Killer Tide. The Opioid Epidemic
Evans says it’s the one place where users will not be judged.
“When you fail, we’re going to be there for you and encourage you, wherever you’re at. We’re just like we’re your backup – we’ve got your back,” she said. “So when you drop off, you don’t drop off the map and disappear and die.”
“It’s a kind approach, it’s a pragmatic approach, and really it’s just about safety and love,” added the CORNER Project’s Director of Harm Reduction Adriana Pericchi.
But they are struggling under the strain of the growing epidemic.
“We love our folks, we love our community, we hurt so much every time we lose someone, and that is way too often,” Pericchi said.
Users are dying in parks, in fast-food restaurant bathrooms and in their homes.
As Killer Tide continues, Diamond will bring us to a bathroom where users can shoot up without fear of dying.