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.

W-18: A Novel Opioid The Media Is Getting All Wrong

By Terry Gotham

I try not to use Burners.me as a megaphone, but as I read about this substance & how it was being covered in the media, I needed to make an exception. To be clear, we have no evidence of this substance being found or consumed at Burning Man, but I believe it will become a problem in the painkiller consuming community on the West Coast over the next 18 months. W-18 is a novel analgesic that was patented as the 18th in a 32 compound series by a trio of Canadian researchers in 1984. First flagged by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs & Drug Addiction in 2014,W-18 started turning up in prescription oxycodone pills seized by Canadian law enforcement in early 2015. It’s been banned by China, but the reasons why are unclear. The news stories on it started to pile up in April, so started digging. I found two scoops of sloppy reporting and a shocking lack of real information.

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The Future Of Cannabis: Illegal Plants Become Legal Products

marijuana-marketing-blog-imageBy Terry Gotham

As part of my efforts to get the word out about the problems drug users currently face, I’ve presented at a number of academic conferences across North America. Whenever I’m in a state with more liberal drug laws than the one I currently reside in, I always like to examine it both as a consumer & a policy advocate. In Vancouver, while I was being pitched the differences between different sativa infused energy drinks & indica infused lip balm when it hit me.  We’re not in Kansas anymore ladies and gentlemen, the future of drug marketing is now.

While the majority of the USA is still screwing around, debating morality & incarcerating minorities for fun and profit, several states and British Columbia have seen what many moralizing policymakers claimed could never happen. The proliferation of cannabis products post-decriminalization & legalization is proof that recreational drug users are not skittering crackheads, but in fact discerning consumers who, if given the option, can make smart choices about their consumption and habits.

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LSD Research: Where We Are In 2016

by Terry Gotham

Since the interview with MAPS went over so well, I figured I’d keep the hype train about psychedelics research going. Over the last couple of years, really great thing have happened surrounding MDMA & Magic Mushrooms, but for some of us, LSD is the Holy Grail of psychedelics research.

To provide some history, back in the 50’s & 60’s, there was a significant amount of research surrounding LSD. Everything from autism to homosexuality to childhood schizophrenia was treated with LSD in places like the Silver Spring Maryland Hospital. Dozens of studies were performed, and LSD was seen as a promising psychomimetic (insanity mimicking) and later as a “psychedelic” (mind-manifesting). But we all know what happened next.  Manson used a bunch of it to trick girls into killing people and horror stories about hippies & kids going insane and never coming back pervaded the landscape. Oh yea, and Nixon shit all over it.

However, over the last decade or so, we’ve seen a resurgence in research associated with those very same psychedelics. While MDMA for PTSD & Psilocybin for terminal cancer anxiety has stolen the spotlight, LSD has quietly been examined by a number of research groups, with some encouraging results. LSD has been shown to be effective for anxiety surrounding terminal cancer as well, as the recently completed Phase II clinical trial sponsored by MAPS has shown. If you’re interested in bypassing the hype and getting directly to the full text pdf, here it is.Two other avenues of LSD research have been making steady progress during this psychedelics renaissance.

Alcoholism treatment with LSD was evaluated by two researchers in the Dept. of Neuroscience at the Norwegian University of Science & Technology. A meta-analysis of the current research findings surrounding LSD & alcoholism were evaluated, and the findings were very encouraging. From the paper’s abstract:

A single dose of LSD, in the context of various alcoholism treatment programs, is associated with a decrease in alcohol misuse. ~Krebs & Johansen, 2012

This isn’t surprising to some of you, who have commented about how psychedelics have helped cope with addiction & addictive tendencies. But for the effect to be verified academically, is very important.

The second area of research that is getting some LSD-infused love is cluster headaches, also known as suicide headaches. A study published in the Journal of Neurology 7 of 8 LSD users stated they saw a termination of cluster headache attacks. MAPS has also published on this phenomena. Cluster headaches have very few treatments and they paralyze those who experience them, so researchers are very excited at the potential for LSD & LSD analogues to help.

Another aspect of LSD consumption that deserves more study is microdosing. After I was critical of the loose reporting surrounding this practice, I had a number of interesting conversations with burners who reached out to discuss their anecdotal use of LSD to improve their life. Some microdose daily, others told me about habits where they’d microdose one week on 2-3 weeks off, and back and forth. There’s a giant uncontrolled experiment going on out there, and instead of trying to generate page views by claiming executives are dropping tabs in the office, I agree with Forbes (a phrase I don’t use often) that we need to evaluate this in a much more sophisticated & systematic way.

If you’re really hankering for some LSD & don’t want to break the law, head to Dr. Peter Gasser in Switzerland. VICE did a great little round up of how and why this psychiatrist is able to prescribe LSD to his patients. It’s a nice little story, and continues to back up my claim that Switzerland isn’t a real place. It’s totally the future with Alps & chocolate.

So much more work to be done, but hope you found a couple of reasons to celebrate how far we’ve come as you’ve read this.

Shaft, Unicorns, and Morning Gloryville

Shaft the Unicorn. Image: Vice

Shaft the Unicorn. Image: Vice

We keep hearing from BMOrg’s spokespeople how the dusty desert rave is making the world a better place and transforming lives around the planet. It’s good to see some evidence of this happening. First we had Jared Leto bringing Burning Man to SOHO:

Image: New York Magazine

Image: New York Magazine

Now VICE brings us a documentary about Shaft, who was inspired by going to Burning Man events to self-identify as a unicorn.

When a charismatic former alcoholic named Shaft had his life changed by Burning Man, he realized that he actually identifies as a unicorn. No longer able to face the monotony of work and life in the real world, he decided to form a polyamorous and hedonistic movement with other like-minded unicorns.

Donning glittery horns and galloping through London’s streets, Shaft’s unicorns set about trying to create a free-love utopia.

But as the unicorn revolution begins to clash with the realities of life and love, some of the “glampede” became disillusioned, and Shaft’s reasons for starting this whole thing came into question.

Is this the hedonistic, free love revolution we were promised in the 60s? Or is it as fake as the unicorn horns they wear, a desperate and clever ploy by Shaft to escape his own inner loneliness by starting a cult?

It’s one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a while.

The girl’s art around 7:30 is priceless.

Shaft says “it’s the Burning world that I got all my ideas in life from”. He means his ideas about polyamory, partying, and magical transpecies identification. He also says “I’m a massive drug addict”, with Ketamine bed parties being his particular preferred indulgence.

So here’s one way to measure the impact of Burner culture on the world. Count unicorn horns, wherever you go.

Meanwhile, Laser Unicorns brings us this surprise hit: