Two years ago to the day, my husband interrupted my work to let me know that my big brother had committed suicide.
The news did not come as a surprise – his mental health had been a struggle for as long as I can remember. He had several failed attempts over the years.
His death, following years of polydrug use – including our socially acceptable alcohol, somewhat stigmatised psychiatric drugs, and our wholly demonised “street drugs” – speaks to the lack of harm reduction in the realm of psychiatric care, and within our societies.
About six months before my brother overdosed on a month’s – or somewhat more’s – worth of prescription drugs, I collected his medication from the pharmacy. We were both in our hometown with a family emergency and he had only brought down a few days’ worth of drugs to ensure his mood stayed stabilised, he slept, and his serotonin did not spike or drop too much.
Instead of retrieving enough to last the few days before his return home, I was handed a month’s worth of tablets, a mere week before his refill was due. I was appalled at the sheer size of the bag – big enough to contain a quantity of uppers, downers, stabilisers, and whatnot else.
Upon taking the bag from me, he remarked: “This is how overdoses happen.”
The day before he departed this world, he had a friend collect his prescription and drop it off.
A bottle of wine and enough tablets to overstock any bathroom cabinet was all it took for him to escape the pain in his heart and mind. After years of severe bipolar disorder, memories of trauma, dependence, and addictions issues, he finally broke free.
He was prone to binges and benders, but he worked very hard to keep his brain chemistry balanced when he was in a better space. The traumas he survived – that we survived – swung the pendulum of his life relentlessly. He received little guidance along the means of harm reduction from his doctors, family, and friends.
As much as our society stigmatises substance use, dependence, and addiction, so too does it stigmatise recovery.
You will hear the team here at Fields of Green for ALL talk about harm reduction as we fight for Cannabis Legalisation and Regulation from a human rights perspective. Indeed, harm reduction expands far beyond how much Dagga one consumes in a day and the impacts this has on one’s life and relationships.
Harm reduction encompasses proper drug-use education, like how some substances can knock out some psychiatric drugs or interact poorly. Harm reduction is about understanding that we all have different limits and therefore different relationships with drugs, no matter how socially acceptable or unacceptable those substances may be.
Harm reduction is about ensuring kindness toward drug users like you and me, and ensuring we lose fewer brothers and sisters to the petulant ideals of the prohibitionist mindset.