Needle exchange: The story from a different perspective

By on September 5, 2017

 A first glance, Jenny looks a lot like any other Outer Banks resident.

If you were standing next to her in line at Food Lion, the slight, 32 year old with some house paint from her job splattered on her arms and T-shirt would appear unremarkable.

When she walked into the restaurant for our interview, accompanied by two members of The Source church, no one gave her a second look.

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But Jenny, which is not her real name, is not like most of us. Jenny is a drug user. She has served five years in prison on drug-related charges.

Jenny has three children, one a 15-year-old daughter who is the same age Jenny was when drugs entered her life. The fathers have custody of her children, but she talks to them on the phone occasionally.

She also volunteers is a local needle-exchange program and has even saved the life of a friend who overdosed on an opioid by administering Naloxone.

For all those “negatives,” Jenny and her friends at The Source consider her a valuable, contributing member of the Outer Banks community.

With the exception of her stint in prison, she has worked steadily since she was 15, when she helped serve food at a flea market in her hometown. She doesn’t steal for drug money and she’s never been arrested for anything other than the one drug charge.

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Her drug use has been on and off over the years, and she says even with heavy use, she quit drugs each time she was pregnant and even today is more of a casual than an everyday user.

Her life story contains many of the usual triggers one hears when drug users explain how they got started. How life’s twists and turns can roll off the backs of some individuals while others descend further into a life where drugs provide an escape from the real world.

Jenny describes her youth as fairly normal, except that she was always more of a loner.

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“In my early teens, I was a good student. My grades were all A’s and B’s, I was in the school choir and I wasn’t one to get in trouble at school. I was never grounded by my parents at home. But I only had one close friend and when too many people were around me, I wanted to leave. I’m still like that today.”

When she was 15, Jenny became pregnant. Six months later she lost the baby.

Jenny says she was drug-free up to that point, but because of the pregnancy’s complications, she was prescribed pain killers and other pills, and she found more than physical solace in the drugs.

And so, she used drugs to escape the pain of losing her child:  pain pills, prescription drugs and methadone. She even tried to OD on the latter, taking 40 pills at one time.

She said it was a lifelong childhood friend who introduced her to the recreational aspects of drug use that led to her long-term addiction.

Flash forward two years, and Jenny is pregnant again. She quit using drugs as soon as she found out, and none of her three children were born with any medical issues stemming from her addiction, she said.

The father didn’t hang around, and when the child, a daughter, was 3 years old, the father re-appeared and Jenny allowed him to take her for two weeks.

Instead, Jenny says, the father kidnapped the baby, and she once again began using drugs. This time around she moved on to using harder drugs.

Once more she became pregnant and once more, she says she quit using drugs during the pregnancy and breastfeeding period.

This time she was told by her doctor that the child, a boy, had a form of meningitis and that the baby would not likely survive long.

Bad news sent Jenny into an emotional tailspin as she tried to detach herself from bonding with another child she would eventually lose. She stayed off drugs during her pregnancy and breastfeeding periods.

As it turned out, her son did not have meningitis and she stayed off drugs. Six months later, Jenny was pregnant again and gave birth to a daughter.

At this point, Jenny doesn’t remember much about her final return to drug use, only that something set off another trigger and she found herself using once more. This time the results were different and would have a more significant impact.

As often happens in the world of drugs, a friend turned on her and Jenny found herself busted on felony charges that included trafficking. While she didn’t deal or sell, Jenny made drugs for her own use and in sufficient quantities to trigger the trafficking charges. The drug was methadone and the amount was 100 grams.

Her arrest cost her custody of her children and estrangement from her parents. Jenny found the latter ironic. She says she often used drugs with her father and he typically paid her bills in exchange for sharing some of what she manufactured.

Her offense earned her five years in prison, and when asked about the experience, her answer is surprising.

“I didn’t see it as a bad experience. The state was going to make sure my kids were safe, I had no relationship with my parents or family and jail felt safe — organized, stable and routine,” Jenny said.

Unlike many stories one hears about drug users being able to obtain drugs in prison, Jenny said that wasn’t the case with her. She didn’t use drugs, and her prison had a mandatory rehab program. Jenny was released on schedule with her first chance at parole as a result of good behavior.

She went to a halfway house, then was released, although she is on probation and therefore, under considerable scrutiny. Her probation officer will not authorize the use of any methadone substitutes to help her kick the habit, although Jenny is unsure she wants to go that route given the program’s low success rate.

“It might be best if I just learn to kick the habit without the substitute.”

Jenny found the classes useful and while she is back to using heroin in what she describes as a “casual” pattern, she has a long-term goal of kicking the habit altogether. But she is undecided about being free from prison.

“I often wonder if life was easier in prison than it is on the outside. With a prison record, it’s hard to get a job.”

As a user, she won’t pass any drug test given by a prospective employer. Jenny interviews well but has learned that a “sure thing” can turn into disappointment once that background check is run.

One local franchise told her she had the job, but then called her a few days later withdrawing the offer.

“When I asked why, the manager said, ‘We don’t hire people like you.’ What is ‘people like me’ and who would really say something like that to a person?” Jenny ponders.

She doesn’t steal, there are no outward signs she’s a drug user and she claims her drug use has never been an issue with showing up for work or performing her duties. She says she does not work while under the influence of the drugs she takes.

She finds odd jobs like painting interiors on remodeling or construction jobs and works on rebuilding relationships. She talks as often as she can to her children and has started talking to her mother again. Her kids stay in touch now, and the fathers are involved and helping to raise the children.

While Jenny is still using, she also wanted to contribute something to help those who struggle with addiction. Hence her involvement with the local needle exchange program.

As one who uses, Jenny is at risk for arrest, and that provides the “street cred” to gain the trust of current users. While some users will accept needles from programs where non-users are the source, many fear they will set them up for arrest.

Jenny also has another reason for wanting to help. She has Hepatitis C, a condition her bunkmate had in prison and a subject of a detailed paper for her rehab class while serving time.

“Hep C” can be transmitted by contact with blood and therefore, is an issue for parents who have the disease. It is costly to cure, ranging in price from $55,000 in Canada to $90,000 in the United States, a cost borne by taxpayers or anyone with health insurance.

From Jenny’s perspective, preventing the spread of Hep C, and more importantly, HIV is one way for her to help a community in which she is still a participant.

When asked if she feels she is helping to enable continued use of the drug, her response is matter-of-fact. “They (critics of the program) don’t think we are helping; they think we are enabling them to ruin their lives. But just simple bleeding can spread the disease (the CDC says the Hep C virus in blood, even dried blood, can survive up to three weeks) and these users are going to use, so why not give them clean needles? I can’t stop them from using, but I can help stop the spread of disease.”

She also helps distribute the drug Naloxone, which can reverse a drug overdose.

She attends The Source church in Manteo and feels comfortable there because she’s not judged by its members.

“I feel like I’m doing some good for this town. There’s a lot of people that won’t come to the beach because they are scared of the ‘beach’ police so I can fill that gap by providing needles to folks off the main beach.

“I feel good about this. I am at least helping them do drugs as safely as possible and not spreading diseases to others including themselves — kids, spouses, others. “

“Needles are hard to get, and users are going to find them, and that typically means stealing them or using dirty needles that spread HIV, hepatitis and other diseases. If I met people in a program like this earlier in my life, I might not have Hep C myself.”

“Long term, I hope whomever I’m helping will find the strength to get off the drugs, but while they are using, I want them to be as safe as can be. It has helped me reduce my drug use and makes me want to get off completely because I can see where I don’t want to go.”

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Comments

Really?

September 13, 2017 6:22 pm

And yes, illegal is illegal and how a church can help and condone illegal drug use is disgusting!

Candy Cane

September 13, 2017 3:48 pm

@Angry As Hell Mother Perspective

*Loud vigorous applause*

Angry As Hell Mother Perspective

September 12, 2017 1:28 pm

Thank you to everyone who has expressed empathy, and also passed along their thoughts. That is truly what community is about. @Truth. The last thing you want to do is to tell me to calm down. If you would like to have a cup of coffee and come listen to how not calm I am, I would certainly take you up on that. Also what I shared does have opinion it, but is also backed by factual information. Also, I am not complaining, and I am doing something about it. Number one, I am getting the word out there. Number two, I have contacted every news source, every politician, and every law enforcement agency you could imagine. In fact, I find your comment and the contradictions within to be rather humorous. It is you who is complaining, and doing nothing about it. The oh well, just deal with it attitude is not a solution, but rather a part of the problem. There are loads of things we can do about it. It is not the author of this article I am putting on blast, it is the subject I find so hard to digest. I am very fortunate that the first responders didn’t have an attitude like you.

We may not be able to definitively clean up the world, or even our sweet little strip of land. However, we can do our best to improve it. Starting with no more sweeping under the rug. We are very fortunate to live in such a beautiful resort area that most only see once a year. Those tourists are our bread and butter. So it’s a lot more profitable to hide the truth than it is to combat it. Most shark attacks go unreported, no one wants little Jimmy going out into the water if the risk is too high. But no one knows that little Jimmy has a higher risk of being stuck with a needle on the beach. When you are loud, someone has to do something about it.

Be an advocate for those that have become victims of this situation. My child has some pretty horrible luck. He is not the only one, and there are other children out there living within that every day. Speak up! Give them a fighting chance!

Worried about being the reason for an arrest? You can make anonymous reports through social media and phone calls. The Narcotics Task Force is available for anyone to speak to. If you see it, report it. Every single time. We are their greatest resource! Stop turning a blind eye because its not your problem! We don’t have to live this way, and neither do our children.

Make sure you know who you are voting for. Make sure you know who the owners are behind the business you spend your money with. Do some research and see what laws some of your government officials have passed! Knowledge is power! I have been in the dark, and felt the same way. But not anymore, I simply can’t ignore it.

I’m not asking for people to be aware for me or my son, I am asking for them to be aware for themselves! This is where you live! Where you spend your money, where they spend our tax dollars. Be proud of it, be involved!

Again, a huge thank you for everyone’s kind thoughts and words! And for those who are brave enough to speak out against it!

dave

September 11, 2017 1:16 pm

Just read NARCAN can go from $300-$4,500 per dose. Just think of how many Epipens that could buy to save lives or cancer drugs for kids, etc. Methadone is a joke. Makes A LOT of $$$ running the so called “clinics”. More addictive than heroin. Different junk for junkies.

Candy Cane

September 11, 2017 10:03 am

Manufactured over 100 grams of Methadone and was not selling it? Laughable… I wonder how such an endeavor to make so much was financed.

She went to prison, 5 years without using, yet now out, “…the consideration of methadone substitutes to help her kick the habit, although Jenny is unsure she wants to go that route given the program’s low success rate.

“It might be best if I just learn to kick the habit without the substitute.””

Really? She’s already kicked the habit.

dave

September 11, 2017 9:11 am

Let Darwin sort it out.

Robin

September 11, 2017 12:51 am

It’s ILLEGAL drug use the SOURCE church is supporting! ILLEGAL!!! Somehow, I don’t think Jesus would have approved.

Jen godfried

September 10, 2017 10:36 am

Any way you twist it, the needle program enables. Let the users suffer the cosequences of their chosen action. Stop sugar coating and making it sound like helping to use drugs is a good thing. It is not. It is not a disease. It is a habit that must be broken, not managed.

Truth

September 8, 2017 9:34 am

I think everyone shoul calm down and deal with reality. This is a BIG problem across our country that most people want to either turn a blind eye to, or complain about. The comments below are opinions. They also expresse the frustrations many feel. If you have a better plan to combat this problem, please share. Don’t keep complaining about everything including shooting the messenger. It doesn’t appear that the Voice or the Source Church were condoning the activity, simply reminding everyone “it is a problem we all have to deal with”. Whether we like it or not.

Really?

September 7, 2017 6:31 pm

@AngryMom thanks for sharing your unfortunate situation.

Really?

September 7, 2017 6:23 pm

@DogMother you’re exactly right, how a so called church can help people abuse drugs and participate in an illegal activity under the guise of religion is mind boggling and quite offensive. @dave you are correct methadone is just another synthetic opioid to abuse and has very little effect on curing these junkies, just look at how many DIE from methadone. And @Angry mom I’m so sorry this happened to your son and yet all people seem to do is continually let junkies play the victim and even our sorry commissioners think it’s perfectly ok to give out more and more needles. @Nigel is spot on with a new low for OBX with this article when it should spotlight people like @angrymom whom are dealing with situations that didn’t need to happen and no one seems to care or want to help them because they are to busy worrying about how many needles they can give away. Most definitely the saddest part is the fact that OBV and talking heads that usually comment on here have more to say about stupid plastic bags than a bunch of junkies ruining our community! Time for people to get their head out of the sand and stand up to the lawbreaking druggies and the people that enable them! WTH Russ? Let’s see if the liberal minds have any backbone to help tell the TRUE victims story like @angrymom.

DogMother

September 7, 2017 9:10 am

I feel so terrible for the Angry Mom and her son. As a nurse, i was exposed to all sorts of nasty diseases when a patient stabbed me with a dirty needle.

I don’t feel that it is compassionate to the rest of the community to give out free needles to drug abusers, since they lack the respect for others in the community to dispose of them safely.

That a church would enable people to continue in sin boggles the mind! When Jesus dealt with the woman caught in adultery, He told her to stop sinning. He didn’t give her condoms and tell her to sin safely!

I’m glad Source Church makes everyone feel welcome and safe, but perhaps they should reevaluate the effect of the program on the rest of the community.

dave

September 7, 2017 8:59 am

“Jenny” will be a the typical person orbiting the Nags Head Methadone clinic daily. I mean this sincerely. She’ll get hooked on methadone which is much harder to get off of than heroin. Just imagine hundreds if not over a thousand of folks like her in the heart of Nags Head/Outer Banks every….single…..day. Btw, methadone is shown to have about a 1-2% success rate getting people off heroin/opioids.

Nigel

September 7, 2017 6:13 am

This article is a new low for Outer Banks Voice. Praising a non law abiding citizen and their “work” with other non law abiding citizens. Ridiculous waste of my morning.

Angry As Hell Mother Perspective

September 6, 2017 4:09 pm

Thank you Jenny, for your service. I appreciate that you provided a clean needle to a drug user that could have potentially infected my 9 YEAR OLD with HIV and Hep B after they so kindly discarded it in my yard. While taking the dog out Friday, my son was stuck with a dirty needle. Because you see POST use they are no longer clean. The needle and other various paraphernalia had been tossed over our fence line. Next time after my sobbing/panicked phone call to 911, I will make sure to check on the drug addict that used said needle and commend them on their healthier choice. Oh wait, it turns out junkies don’t claim their needles when child endangerment is on the line. I sure hope while they are in their state of euphoria they don’t hear the cries of a mother after watching her child have 6 vials of blood drawn. Fun fact, post exposure prophylaxis has to be used within a 72 hour window. Oh but wait, there is more! HIV and Hep B can take up to 6-12 months to be detected. See I didn’t expect the state to take care of my child in this situation, I DID. I had to sit in a sterile and freezing hospital room and give my child a lesson on mortality and tough grown up decisions. Rest assured I will feel at ease, and so will this young child with his life ahead of him, when we are getting his blood drawn for upwards to a year. Surely my knotted stomach and his giant tears will be subsided knowing that users have been provided such a service. I particularly like the part where keeping KIDS safe is glorified in this. I mean after all, it’s a good thing I had a drug free pregnancy, and raised my child over the last 9 years in a safe environment, all to have his finger pricked by a used needle. It wasn’t our choice to be in such a horrible nightmare. But hey, as long as that user got a good night’s rest. This is no act of paying it forward. Nor is this some saintly Mother Teresa act. I’m no critic, I am an actual victim of this selfish, careless egocentric act of one person. One that is many. I am product of divorce, I had a miscarriage, I have strained relationships with family, does that now give us a license to be destructive? This inexcusable. Unforgivable. This is not the perspective of the user, the church parishioner, the needle supplier, or the angry privileged mother driving her Range Rover. This is the perspective of a hard working, law abiding, clean and sober single parent that barely meets the middle class tax bracket, who should have never had to worry that her son would have been poked with a used needle while taking the dog out. Wake up! I sure did when reading this slap in the face of story. Jenny is no martyr, Jenny is just incapable of taking accountability for her poor decisions that have hurt her children, her loved ones, members of the community. Let’s make sure that we don’t let any plastic bags fly across the beach. But needles are okay, because drug addicts are our future. Not children. Well done!

One Day at a Time

September 6, 2017 3:47 pm

What is the purpose of this story?

Despite what the article says, one can’t recreationally use any physically addictive substance like alcohol, opioids, benzodiazepines once you are an addict.

Addiction sucks, and my body didn’t care if it was legally prescribed or was bought on the street. I am 5 days shy of one year and there was no easy way, no magic pill, no silver bullet. You think opioids are bad, try getting off benzo’s it takes years to get your head right.

So being an active illicit drug user gives one credibility to give away free needles? I would rather talk to someone who has been down my road and found a way out of addiction.

Did she get Hep C from her prison bunkmate or from sharing needles?

The baby daddy kidnapped her child? Some might say he rescued the baby? There’s more to that story.

Last, she went to jail for 5 years for manufacturing Methadone for personal use? Please……no one is doing time like that for getting busted with a personal stash of anything.

I wouldn’t hire anyone that isn’t truthful. I would hire someone who owns up to mistakes and is taking positive steps.

Really?

September 6, 2017 10:53 am

Why would you @toadlicker have empathy for someone who DGAF about quitting. And enough with giving them a platform to play the victim, why not do a story on the trail of destruction to families and society they have done. Let’s hear from the true victims and family members so they can tell their story of how these junkies do not care to get straight but just want another fix and their free needles. Let’s hear how their mom/dad always choose drugs over them. How they steal from their own family members with no remorse and then play the victim or disease card. Bunch of one sided articles never telling the other side of the story. The truly laughable part is how these junkies feel like they are a viable part of their community when they are nothing but a detriment to everyone. SMH!

Toad Licker

September 6, 2017 6:36 am

So, she’s voluntarily quit several times for her kids but not herself, and feels prison and having her kids taken away is a good thing. I have no empathy for people who have the capability to quit drugs but not the will.

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