By The Numbers
In our first half year, we distributed 466 doses of nasal narcan (naloxone), 198 doses of intramuscular narcan (naloxone), 4 reported overdose reversals, performed 169 naloxone/overdose trainings, distributed 395 syringes, 23 kits of cookers and cottons, 8 doses of emergency contraception, and 276 condoms.
Who We Are and How We Do It.
We are confident that our activities counted above have been necessary but not sufficient to curb the recent wave of overdoses and harm Houston is currently facing. It is worth questioning what works and what does not, but also where to begin and how to make a difference. It is easy to get caught up in grandiose dreams of “saving the world” only to find them crashing down on you when you embark. Part of what “crisis” rhetoric seeks to convey is that the current situation is not supposed to happen, or that the world without it is defensible, and that is not what we believe. We believe that the “epidemic” is business as usual for a world where those who hold power value profits over people. With this understanding, we’ve decided against approaches by which NGO/Non-profit oriented harm reduction groups might be driven, such as the desire to be as big as possible, a capitalist division of labor, medicalization of human dignity, etc. Instead, we have opted for an approach inspired by survival and service projects that have been deployed by groups like the Young Lord’s Lincoln Hospital Detox Service and the Black Panther Party’s Free Breakfast program. We do not believe that we have all the answers or that our approach has been better, or that organizations with a different or less political outlook aren't deserving of support. A diversity of approaches is valid.
In Another Vein has mostly stuck with the form of an organization as a “network”. We have no staff or board of directors, we do not have a “volunteer” and “client” distinction, and instead we consist of a loose association of real, living relationships. We have no official existence beyond this and no standing in the existing legal system. This does not mean we’re not structured or disciplined, but rather that we have a form which is constituted by the direct needs and desires of all participants, on an individual basis. Each participant has a different orientation to the project and space is made for this and maximizing our potential and wellness as human beings. We envision In Another Vein to be a life-affirming activity for everyone, so we endeavor towards that as the essence of our work, a truly free labor of love. Not just a collection of individuals doing something in common, but a freely associating group of people united around common values.
Our existing relationships to a broader group of participants including people who use drugs (henceforth PWUDs) has proved the most vital to being able to distribute naloxone and supplies that result in reversals and getting our supplies out effectively. We experienced that the usual methods by which activists, public health field workers, and other community organizers are extremely labor intensive and misguided if direct relationships do not already exist. Therefore the prescription should be that a successful harm reduction program involves, to the fullest extent possible, people who use drugs or former users who are able to navigate the world of those that need Naloxone and clean use supplies and will find them and continuously supply them. The alternative, trying to do outreach without context, no lead, and no existing relationships, is much less likely to produce results. You have to start with the people close to you, and go 1-by-1.
For us, this means the return on our work is slower, our scale is smaller, and therefore our impact is smaller than other harm reduction groups. However, we do not see this as a failure but rather one of our strengths. We are able to provide a higher level of more intimate care and have direct, quality relationships between PWUD and those who do not use drugs. These participants who have a direct relationship are the ones who have the most impact, each supplying a different part of town and able to access different groups of users. They report to people who work suppliers on their group’s needs, directly perform reversals, and do most of what you may “picture” harm reduction to be. The effect is that people who use drugs are most likely to relate to and trust those who are also using drugs, which therefore creates access to a higher level of care. In this, we refuse the processes that push our communities to the margins towards the dignity and health of our society at large.
It is a quality over quantity argument at its core, but we would like to stress that this has also been a testament to our long-term vision and dedication to anti-colonial, pro-queer, and anti-capitalist politics. In Another Vein participants, including PWUDs as described above, don’t just help us distribute supplies, but also carry a broader message. The way we understand it, if we are not educating and agitating the working class about the forces that make the conditions PWUDs live in, we are not conducting the whole of a harm reduction mission.
Reaffirming Our Politics
“Junkie Communism” by M.E. O’Brien came out in issue 3 of Commune Mag this past month. We were stunned by the beautiful way this history was woven together, we proceeded to share it with the broader participants of In Another Vein, to which we received nothing but positive feedback.
O’Brien calls makes it clear why revolutionaries should support harm reduction:
“We need a communist politics that does not assume respectability or stability, that does not divide the world between the innocently poor and the chaotically dangerous. When refusing their imposed disposability and isolation through revolutionary activity, junkies and their friends move towards a communism not based on the dignity of work, but on the unconditional value of our lives. Our revolutionary politics must embrace the many broken and miserable places inside ourselves. It is from these places of pain that our fiercest revolutionary potential emerges. We need a communist politics that welcomes us all and engages us fully as whatever we are — as freaks and fuck-ups, as faggots and trannies, as wreckers and miserable wrecks, as addicts and crazies. We need a junkie communism.”
We contend that we need a harm reduction that does not presume helplessness or a lack of agency for people who use drugs, that does not divide helping each other and challenging the system that kills us. Harm reduction must not simply find a solution in providing care and services but challenge the forces that make such necessity in the first place. Our harm reduction approach should embrace revolutionary politics because the basis of this society is also broken and miserable. The downtrodden of the earth must organize and those of us addicted to drugs are no different. We need a revolutionary approach to harm reduction.
O’Brien’s article really affirms what makes In Another Vein what it is, our commitment to a broader political vision and refusal to hide our politics. For us, the historical continuity with the revolutionary movements against white supremacy who first took up harm reduction is deeply important. We believe if there is a way out of the current situation, it's in users and care-givers self organizing towards a broader struggle. We don’t believe that hiding our politics is even an option for us.
In the next 6 months, we hope to accomplish a few things. First is to continue expanding our work into sexual health, and supplying more contraceptives and education. We also want to deepen our relationship with Space City Socialists, who have dedicated us as a service project. We want to have more public events, and produce more engaging content and education on our own terms. Last but not least, we would like to see ourselves take up some kind of political struggle against the people accountable for naloxone-prohibition, austerity and the broader system which affects our participants.
In Another Vein is financially low-overhead and is mostly supported by participants, individual supporters and small donations. If you are sympathetic to our mission, consider a donation of any size to our PayPal: https://www.paypal.me/inanothervein
In Another Vein is an unincorporated network of poor and working class people helping other poor and working class people. Our mission is social transformation through harm reduction and sexual wellness in Houston, Texas. We are guided by principles of mutual-aid, free association, and the idea that the people most affected by a crisis hold the power to navigate it.