A Troll Accidentally Discovers Harm Reduction

A Troll Accidentally Discovers Harm Reduction September 7, 2021

This has nothing to do with abortion.

The conversation did start while discussing the Texas abortion law, about which I’ve already said quite a bit. but then it meandered.

I got into a tiff with a troll who was pleased with the abortion law, because it would punish the right people and make them suffer. I don’t want to make people suffer, I want to help people to do the right thing, and I didn’t see the law doing that.

I tried to explain to the troll that laws punishing a bad thing don’t necessarily make the bad thing go away– sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t. A law that actually helps a bad thing go away may be a just law, and a law that doesn’t help but only hurts people is an unjust one. Some things go away if they’re made illegal and some don’t. You can easily name a thing that goes away once it’s illegal.  They don’t sell cars without seatbelts anymore. The first example that came to mind of a thing being illegal not making it go away, was heroin. I invited him to come to the local needle exchange if he thought the war on drugs made drugs go away.

My troll didn’t like that. He also didn’t seem to know very much about drug addiction:

Him: O, well then let’s just legalize heroin for all, then! Keeping poor people from having easy access to heroin is only gonna make them get it from the dealer down the street– they should be getting heroin from doctors so they can destroy their lives under professional supervision. 

Me: Actually that would be better than the current situation by a long shot, thanks for proving my point. But what if there was a third option that was even better?

Him: You say that until your 13 year old becomes a heroin addict. I mean, he’s gonna lose all his teeth and turn into a husk, but at least there’ll be doctors all around to revive him when he inevitably overdoses over and over and over… until they can’t anymore. 

What a strange thing to say.

My daughter is turning ten this year. If, God forbid, she were ever addicted to heroin, I would want mental health care for her, and lots of it. I would want to live in a place that had effective drug rehab that wasn’t abusive, that was carefully regulated, that was affordable and easy to access. I would want her to live in good housing while she was getting care. I would want her to be safe from anybody who would take advantage of her and abuse her when she was in such a state. And if she wasn’t in treatment, I would at least want her to not suffer any pain that could be avoided. By contrast, our society wants to inflict as much pain on addicts as possible.

I wouldn’t want Rosie to run into self-righteous people who are “tough on crime” because they think being cruel to addicts will make them behave. I wouldn’t want her to go to jail or prison. I wouldn’t want her to live on the street. I wouldn’t want her to end up being a prostitute or being trafficked by somebody else. I wouldn’t want her to use a dirty needle and get AIDS or hepatitis.  I’d want her to be as safe as possible in an impossible situation, while she was getting help to not be in that situation anymore.

I would want people to treat her humanely  in the hope that, if she’s treated humanely, she might find her own strength and fight to overcome her addiction. No one can bootstrap their way out of addiction, but that’s one of the things that help. But I’d also want people to treat her humanely because that’s the way you’re supposed to treat human beings, whether it makes them behave or not.

The nonsense scenario that my troll proposed intending to ridicule me, is actually much better than the society we live in. It’s terrible, but it’s better than what really happens to addicts. Our current system is inhumane and makes matters worse.

By coincidence, Rosie and I put together some care packages for local addicts this week. There’s a needle exchange in our neighborhood, run by somebody who would love to make heroin addiction go away entirely– but since they can’t, they at least want to make sure addicts don’t get a contagious disease or blood poisoning. When I found out about this, I asked my friends who work with drug addicts what a heroin addict needs in the very short term, just to keep them alive and a little more comfortable. My friends said they need snacks and a drink with electrolytes. So I got those things at the dollar store, and Rosie and I packed them up into bags and gave them to our friend to give away to addicts.

She asked what kind of sickness the electrolyte packets were for. I said  “There’s a drug. It’s called heroin. You inject it like a shot. When it’s in your system you don’t feel any pain and you don’t feel any mental illness, you feel great. But when it wears off, it hurts really bad and makes you very sick so you feel like you’d do anything to take more heroin and never get off of it. So they have a mental illness and it ruins their lives. It’s not their fault, they need a doctor and a lot of care, they are mentally ill and we have to help them. So So-and-So  is giving them clean needles so they don’t get sick or get an infection giving themselves shots with dirty needles. And I am giving them something extra help them feel not quite so sick.”

It wasn’t exactly the lecture that I received in DARE classes decades ago, but Rosie understood. She help me pack the last of the supplies, and went back to watching Berenstain Bears. She didn’t chide me for being nice to people who ought to get their lives together. She is a reasonable person, and I hope she stays that way.

What does this have to do with abortion? Nothing. Or maybe everything. Maybe if we lived in a society that valued human beings and wanted to help instead of hurt them whenever they were in need, we wouldn’t even be discussing abortion bans. But it does have a lot to do with how you view morality, and with what kind of society you’d like to live in.

If you really think that hurting people for being bad is more important than helping people to be good, you’ll probably be in favor of  draconian laws to punish anyone you think is misbehaving.

I don’t believe that. I believe that justice involves helping people to be good, and in minimizing their suffering wherever we can if we can’t make a bad situation go away.

I suppose that a gift of Pedialyte and a cereal bar won’t make much of a difference. But it could help somebody suffer a little less. And that’s important to me.

I think it should be important to you.




Image via Pixabay


Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.
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