Lazarus Parties, Heroin & the Continued Evolution of Harm Reduction

I’m taking a quick break from my series on the History of Addiction & Society because I’ve been tracking a disconcerting story for the last week. You may have seen it posted by one of your more conservative/pearl clutch-y friends this week, and if not, expect it before election day.

A smattering of local coverage, based around Toledo, Ohio, describes a Lazarus or “Narc” party. Heroin users will do heroin with other users, and in case one of the users overdoses, a sober person who isn’t using, administers Naloxone, or by its common retail name, Narcan. The implication is that because a user was standing by with Narcan, that’s the actual problem. The presence of the OD reversal substance is emboldening heroin users. To test their limits, or to even try using it in different ways, like shooting it, instead of just snorting or smoking it. Instead of preventing death, some are attempting to claim it’s making some people’s use more adventurous.

To research the work I release here on Burners.me, I maintain a quiet presence in a lot of different circles, so a lot of the time, I get to experience how mutually exclusive groups respond to stories. Today, I saw both a pool of researchers, doctors, law enforcement officials AND a group of ravers, talking about the same story, this “Lazarus Party” story. Oh yea, and in case you didn’t go to Sunday School, it’s called a Lazarus Party, because Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead as proof of his Jesus-ness. But, here’s the thing. Are there any actual, confirmed reports of recreational users calling them Lazarus Parties? No, of course there aren’t. But there “might” be, especially if you believe poorly sourced news & blowhards with agendas. Just in case you don’t believe me, ask a member of each political party their thoughts on FBI Director Comey & his investigation, and you’ll see how easily facts can be distorted or ignored to suit a pre-existing bias.

Larry Clark -

Larry Clark – “Tulsa” (1971)

What was amazing about what I saw, was the same mixed field of ignorance, trolling and reason within two opposite populations of commenters. One was a thread where you saw users, scenesters, and sober party attendees, the other was  entirely by people with respectable, well paying jobs, in and around the substance use, abuse & control sectors. Having the same argument. It’s one thing when two of your hippie festival friends argue about the purpose of “Narc” parties, with the dude who has the Deep Mind Acid filter on his profile picture, correcting a burn out when it comes to how Naloxone is used. It’s quite another thing when an ER Coordinator makes the same correction to someone who works in a rehab program.  The two arguments raged all day. At the time of writing, the festie kid argument had died down, but the med/substance abuse professionals was still going back and forth, and did so long into the night. And you thought you took your job home with you.

The facts of the situation are slightly less terrifying. Because Fentanyl, Carfentanyl, U-47700, W-18 and an array of other substances are present in the recreational opiate supply, opiate users have begun to switch off dosing to ensure they’re not all high if someone OD’s. The reports elaborated that people were starting to do heroin in groups more, in response to the tidal wave of Fentanyl-exacerbated OD deaths currently plaguing North America. Of course, if more than 1 person is doing an illegal drug in a room, the media thinks it’s a party.

The inherent idiocy in this line of reasoning should be apparent to everyone who has watched fear mongering and confusion go hand in hand. Thankfully, every time I saw this discussion occur, the intelligent and sensible among those willing to comment rose to the occasion and reminded everyone involved that harm reduction and opiate usage patterns evolve with time. In this case, it looks like people are starting to understand the inherent dangers of their habit, and pivoting around them. Not because they want to do “more drugs” or have a party, but because they don’t want to die. This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s actually deeply subversive when it comes to the traditional line of reasoning that prohibitionists use.

chicago-vice

In both this case, and the example from last week, the idea that drugs take control of you, or that you can’t engage in rational thought while under the influence, was the central pylon in the argumentative infrastructure supporting the case that all drugs are bad and humans shouldn’t have the choice to consume substances, especially to excess. But the narrative that I heard from both elder ravers and MD’s who ran emergency rooms was just the opposite. These “Narc” parties are nothing more than opiate users understanding the conditions on the ground and attempting to prevent bad things from happen to people they care about. Which is the very definition of harm reduction. They know no one is going to stop doing heroin, even when it might be spiked or adulterated with a substance that could kill them.

This point was so well defended, that opiates don’t turn people into zombies, people actually started to understand individuals with physical addiction and a fear/aversion to withdrawal exist. They were looking out for each other, and will continue to do so. I got to see some excellent harm reduction advice dispensed by a forensic toxicologist, so I wanted to share it with y’all, in case this stuff was useful for you:

  • Don’t use alone. Use a buddy system, to have someone who can call 911 ( and give Narcan) in case you stop breathing.
  • Learn how to use Narcan if you plan on using street heroin.
  • Even if you know how to use Narcan, test your drugs.
  • Do the same for another addict.
  • Don’t inject at the same time. Stagger your injection times.

These seem like no-brainers to most of us, but sometimes it’s easy to forget. Phillip Seymour Hoffman forgot. So did Prince. We live in an age where adulterants are far more dangerous than even some of the most problematic recreational drugs. And users are recognizing that, leading them to consume with others, and to learn how to reverse overdoses. That sounds like progress to me. Not something to be afraid of, and certainly not a reason to remove Narcan from the hands of those that consume opiates. Let the people save each other, since the powers that be don’t seem all that concerned about saving them.

5 comments on “Lazarus Parties, Heroin & the Continued Evolution of Harm Reduction

  1. Pingback: Cocaine, “Narcan Resistance” & the Grey Death: Fentalogs in 2017 | Burners.Me: Me, Burners and The Man

  2. Harm reduction is what is needed. No more money, time & resources to keep fighting a drug war that’s raged on for decades without any tangible success at all & is causing massive amounts of problems all over the country. Harm reduction is what is needed. Policy must be made to stop the drug war with the objective of shutting down the black market. The drug war has failed. The drug war is driving the problems, not fixing them. Decriminalization/legalization is necessary, it needs to be backed up with public health announcements explaining exactly why it is needed. Its not in any way condoning the abuse of addictors, it is done bc the alternative, the drug war, has made things infinitely worse on almost every level, to include making drugs abundantly available to any & all that wants them.
    We need to pull LE out of the drug biz – that will free up a lot of resources currently chasing their collective tails. When the laws create more harm and cause more damage than they prevent, its time to change the laws. The $1 TRILLION so-called war on drugs is a massive big government failure – on nearly every single level. Its way past time to put the cartels & black market drug dealers out of business. Mass incarceration has failed. We cant even keep drugs out of a contained & controlled environment like prison.
    We need the science of addiction causation to guide prevention, treatment, recovery & public policies. Otherwise, things will inexorably just continue to worsen & no progress will be made. Addiction causation research has continued to show that some people (suffering with addiction) have a “hypo-active endogenous opioid/reward system.” This is the (real) brain disease, making addiction a symptom, not a disease itself. One disease, one pathology. Policy must be made reflecting addiction(s) as a health issue.
    The war on drugs is an apotheosis of the largest & longest war failure in history. It actually exposes our children to more harm & risk and does not protect them whatsoever. In all actuality, the war on drugs is nothing more than an international projection of a domestic psychosis. It is not the “great child protection act,” its actually the complete opposite.
    The lesson is clear: Drug laws do not stop people from harming themselves, but they do cause addicts to commit crimes and harm others. We need a new approach that decriminalizes the disease. We must protect society from the collateral damage of addiction and stop waging war on ourselves. We must implement policy that stops this war on ourselves. We need common sense harm reduction approaches desperately. MAT (medication assisted treatment) and HAT (heroin assisted treatment) must be available options. Of course, MJ should not be a sched drug at all.
    Every human being is precious, worthy of love and belonging, and deserves opportunities to fulfill his or her potential regardless of past trauma, mental and emotional anguish, addictive behaviors or mistakes made.

    Liked by 1 person

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