08/07/2014 05:51 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Saving Lives By Mail


All the talk of community naloxone programs saving lives from drug overdose might leave people in states with no such programs feeling locked out of the party house. It probably doesn't help that these are typically also the states where HIV and hepatitis C rates are the highest, syringe exchange is illegal, and addiction treatment is the hardest to come by (I'm looking at you Bible Belt).

Tracey Helton, a former San Francisco drug user who has been clean for 16 years, has decided to do something about it. Last year she started mailing care packages with naloxone and/or sterile syringes to drug users living in states where they can't access these life-saving tools. The other day I talked with Tracey about why she decided she had to act.

TC: What is happening in states where people can't access clean syringes and naloxone?

TH: There are so many places in the United States where it is illegal to have syringes without a prescription or where pharmacists won't sell syringes to people who "look like drug users." There are deserts where you can't access syringes unless you have a credit card and can buy them off the internet, which not everyone can do. Some people are re-using syringes and just hoping they don't break off in their arm. We see the same problem with the number of people dying because they don't have access to naloxone.

TC: What areas do you serve?

TH: Anywhere people need help: West Virginia, Virginia, Florida, Texas, Indiana, Ohio are probably some of the places I get contacted from the most.

TC: How many care packages do you mail per week?

TH: I send out 10-14 packages of syringes and about 2 packages of naloxone a week. I've mailed about 250 vials of naloxone total and people have reported 48 overdose reversals.

TC: How do you pay for the supplies and shipping?

TH: I ask people for donations, although not everyone gives them. I have both anonymous donors and users themselves supporting the program.

TC: How do people hear about you?

TH: They contact me through social media.

TC: What are some things people have said to you when you send them a package?

TH: People are really grateful. Some live in areas where paramedics take 30 minutes to show up. They could easily die before the ambulance arrives. Naloxone gives people the ability to save someone's life - although I don't discourage people from calling 911. And of course clean needles protect from infections and diseases.

TC: Why help so many strangers?

TH: Harm reduction and helping people with their addiction issues is my life. It's my passion. It's what I do. You can't get clean if you are dead. I got a second chance at life, why would I squander it by keeping it to myself? As long as I can provide a platform for people to learn about change, I will.