Friday morning I went and interviewed this guy at his extremely cozy office in the north Portland neighborhood of Hollywood. I’m doing a research project for my Groups Dynamics class about using harm reduction groups to treat gay addicts, and this man so happens to lead a weekly meeting serving that very purpose. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to sit in on a meeting, but we did have a very nice 40-minute or so conversation.
Harm reduction is a controversial idea, but can be a lifesaver for many people. Basically, it’s the idea that addicts are going to use until they’re ready to stop, so if you can involved in their life before they’re ready to stop, the least you can do is help them use more safely. Examples of this would be needle exchanges for intravenous heroin users to help stop the spread of hepatitis and HIV; having high school and college kids promise that if they’re going to drink, at least don’t drive afterwards (stay in one place); encouraging sexually promiscuous gay men (targeting, primarily, those that do a lot of meth and then go to sex parties) to at least use condoms if they’re going to engage in that activity. It’s an effective strategy for individuals who fall into the gap between official treatment (like at an inpatient center) and those in peer-led 12-step groups, where, theoretically, you’re supposed to be abstinent in order to go. Many people can’t afford official treatment, or aren’t ready to totally stop using, and the large majority of treatment centers won’t accept you unless you’re totally 100% off drugs. And if that’s not the case, then forget about peer-led groups as well. A more colloquial way of framing harm reduction is to “meet the client where they are.” Most treatment centers prefer to meet they client where the treatment center is at.
Mike is a handsome and friendly young therapist, and after the official interview, we just sat and chatted for a bit. I’ve loved going out and meeting people since I got here, and talking to them about what they do, about the city, and asking them questions and advice about my own future. Already it feels like I’m making good progress for myself, getting my name and face out there, and doing things I’m really enjoying. And learning a lot. Mostly I love being in the presence of so many great minds every day. I’m extremely fortunate.