ABORIGINAL STORIES: C IT MY WAY
FROM JO BROWN (GUEST EDITOR OF THE BLACKOUT EDITION):
Lots of people in my community share fits. I've done it myself.
There's heaps of reasons why.
For a long time, I didn't even think about it. I didn't know about blood borne viruses like hepatitis B and C and HIV. Then when I did know I just thought that, along with infections, they were part of the deal of being an injector. As I learned more, the times I shared a fit became less but there were still times I felt that sharing was the only option.
Eventually, after living with hep C and taking steps to treatment; watching the rates of HIV grown in my community; and getting a serious infection from reusing my own fits (like Ann's story in this article), I made a really important decision. I chose to not re-use other people's fits and to make sure no-one used mine. Because it is really important for Aboriginal people to take charge of our health. I strongly believe we need to help each other make injecting safer for ourselves and each other.
The reality is that there are some towns in NSW where there are whole unit blocks of shooting galleries. There are fits everywhere, on every surface and the floor. There are bottles of vinegar all over the place for injecting patches; not the best choice because vinegar causes serious vein damage. There are a lot of unsafe practices that lead to bad infections and sores and a lot of people are living with blood borne viruses. Some don't not even know about it. But the worse thing? There are far too many people - young people - dying from overdose.
Yet all these things are avoidable if we get into communities with equipment and know-how. We need to be getting users hooked up with naloxone, sterile injecting equipment, citric acid, wheel filters, vials of water.
For this rural edition of User's News, I asked some of my mob who are living in the country about sharing injecting equipment and why they do it - or more to the point, why they don't have new, sterile fits for every hit.
People told me sometimes they don't go and get needles because they're sick from hanging out. Sometimes it is because they can't get to an NSP because they don't have a car and public transport is non-existent.
A lot of people told me they don't want to be seen getting fits because of the stigma and discrimination associated with drug use. When they are seen at drug and alcohol services they are treated differently. It's hard when you have to balance up having new fits with getting your other needs met, especially when it affects your children.
People also worry about coppers watching places that give out injecting equipment. There's a lot of racial profiling. Being black, they search you. If you have fits on you, that's it, they will never leave you alone from then on. That means being searched most days. It's happened to me at different times in my life and it's hard to cope with the humiliation and fear of being locked up that goes with it.
The risk of getting hep C or even HIV doesn't seem as real or urgent as making sure your family is ok and the cops aren't hassling you all the time.
I really want my people safe. So maybe we need to be protecting people more. Getting the cops and other services on side more would help. I'd also like to see outreach services in place so injecting equipment goes to where they use, without revealing those locations or outing them as users. The current system of NSPs is great, but it's sometimes not enough.
Here's some of what my community had to say, in their words.
There was a time when people on the Block would sell clean fits after hours for gold coins. If you didn't have any money and they didn't know you, bad luck - you got nothing. That was their earn so they were hard.
It's even harder to get fits if you're not in the city. There needs to be places you can get free, new fits any hour of the day, no matter where you live. They need to be close to the areas where people use, not miles away. I mean, you can go to the hospital if everywhere else is shut, but if you don't have a car and can't get a lift, there's fuck all buses to get around and none at night. Even if you do have a car the coppers assume that Aboriginal people are up to no good driving round in the middle of the night.
You've got to have a stash of clean fits somewhere, hidden in your house or one of the flats.
[Jo: by "one of the flats", Jack means the shooting galleries.]
I would just look at someone, and if you don't look like you have anything, well ok I'll use your fit.
But then I found out not everyone has symptoms. They might not even know they've got it. You can't tell by looking who's got it and who hasn't.
But you don't want to hurt people either by not sharing with them, especially if they're family.
I never knew what to say so you don't hurt people's feelings. Now I tell them I'm trying to keep us all safe and healthy. I say "We've got to look after each other."
I've used dirty fits on the inside but I've also been on the outside and shared dirty fits because of hanging out. When you're sick you don't have time to worry about chasing down fits. And you can't have fits on you when you're scoring or you're asking for trouble from the coppers.
You can know you should use a new fit but so you have to weigh up going to jail against hep C.
You have to try and keep some new fits and other equipment tucked away somewhere safe near where you use.
Worse case, if you only have a used fit, rinse them out with bleach. I've got a neighbour who's a clean freak, she's always got bleach and I've gone there borrowing a cup of bleach. I think she thinks she's got me converted to housework!
I was at a church this day, because they give out grocery vouchers there. I had got some prescriptions filled so I was short that fortnight and needed a hand to get a few things. I'd been there before and usually it was all fine. They are usually pretty good with me, I think they think I'm a good Mum. They haven't ever turned me down and I was counting on getting the help.
There was a new person, I think she was a volunteer, and she was like "I've seen you at the community centre, haven't I?" She didn't say anything else, but I can tell when the discrimination steps in. However it happened, she knows I go there to get needles. She decides she's not going to give me the voucher. She thinks I'll just sell it for drugs. Plus she thinks I'm short because I spent the money on drugs. So she's punishing me.
If you go to the services and get fits or whatever, you get treated differently. So you have to stop going, not go there. Else your family misses out.
You can get someone to go for you, but that doesn't always work. And I wouldn't want someone delivering a whole box to my house because of DOCS. If they knew I was using I would lose the kids. I'm panicking anyway because of that new church worker and what she might say.
At the moment I am relying on my family and friends to help me out.
The amount of times I've shared fits with other people, it's lucky I didn't get HIV. I do have hep C. I can't believe it when I think of the Russian Roulette I've played all my life. And not just with my life, with other people's lives too. Some were mistakes, accidents, but sometimes I didn't feel at the time that I had a choice.
Lots of reasons why I did it. I was too sick or I was in jail with no options or I couldn't carry a fit because of the police searching me all the time or I didn't have the money to buy one or there wasn't anywhere open to buy them. When you use in a shooting gallery, where there's lots of fits all around everywhere, and you're sick and you need one, you just use one. You don't stop to think or care. Especially if it's just mob using there, you feel pretty safe.
Living with family and mob using, the saying is that we're right, we got the same blood. It's different than just using some outsider's fit. That's not true, but that's what you tell yourself.
If new equipment was there, I'd use it, every time. Sometimes you have to resort to cleaning them, at least doing that is better than doing nothing.
I remember the time I kept reusing my old fits. I knew not to share with other people but thought it was ok to use my own fits, because it was just my blood.
I ended up with a Golden Staph infection. I was in the hospital for weeks. I thought Golden Staph was something you got from being in hospital, I didn't realise you could get it that way. You might not get HIV or hep C but you can still get sick reusing your own fits.
I had to change my way of doing things, make sure I had clean, new fits. I wouldn't want to go through that again.
I've spent a lot of nights coking or on the ice with other people as well as using in shooting galleries where lots of people use. Things can get messy when you are sharing deals and using with different people. It's hard to keep track of the equipment.
To begin with, you use a lot of fits especially if you have fucked veins or other people don't have any. Even if you start with heaps, at some point you can run out. Plus you're always rushing. If you're using in public and someone is cockying for you and you can't get your shot away, there ends up being a lot of blood around and you make mistakes. It's havoc.
You can get wound up and if you don't watch out, you end up using someone's dirty fit. You have to think about it. You've got to get it in your head that it's important to always use cleanies.
I really try to do the right thing most of the time. I make sure I've got heaps of equipment, more than I think I'll need.
You don't want to carry too many fits because if you get pulled up by the police, you're gone, they search you. And the coppers in the country, they take your clean ones off you, they don't know any better. Then you can't get more fits when you need them in the middle of the night.
Sometimes I go chasing fits and it can be a bit of an adventure, something to do, but you can't do it when you're sick. I call on people I know, go visiting, see if they have any. Someone always has new fits, but you have to be able to give them a shot, so that's not always an option. I let people know when I have a box at home, and no pressure, but it can be hard if they come and they're holding and you're sick or whatever. Usually people can do a little bit for you, they usually help me out.
I try to clean out my fits as I use them. I do it with cold water because I know hot water sets blood, like it does on clothes. Then I stash at least one somewhere so it's always there as a backup. But I know it's not a good idea. It's an absolute last resort, that back up fit. I only use it if my only other option at the time would be using someone else's fit.
Most of the time I've lived in the country has been in jails! I've shared fits in jail for sure.
I would ask who had hep C and who didn't. I just had two types of people in my head, those who had it and those who didn't. I thought if you had it, you could share with other people who had it.
I didn't know about the different strains you could get, that you could end up with more than one type.
It's good if you can get Fincol, you can clean the fit between each person to reduce the risk of hep C. It can be pretty stressful, listening for cops and keys, so you've got to get good at doing it. Some people want to skip it, but I've learned how to get it done really quickly. I go through it in my head and then it's just practice. Sometimes they get me to do it because I'm fast and I do a good job.
I've heard my mob saying that only white fellas get HIV or hep C, 'cause it's a white man's disease.
But blackfellas get those things too. Those diseases don't discriminate. Black, white, it's all the same.
We already don't live as long as white people. We have to take better care of us. We have to do the things we can do something about, like getting and using new injecting equipment whenever we can and helping each other out with new equipment.