Former Georgia Straight Reporter Travis Lupick has read virtually every book written about the overdose crisis.
Inevitably, they are told from a few perspectives, such as by a parent who has lost a child due to addiction. Or by a police officer or politician. Or by someone who is many years in recovery from a previous addiction.
All of these can provide valuable insight, but Lupick would do something different. Something unique.
So he wrote a book about the overdose crisis in America from the perspective of those trapped in the current war on drugs.
“Light up at night being told through the eyes of people who use drugs without judging or apologizing, ”Lupick said Just by phone from his home in California. “This book tells how drug users are experiencing the overdose crisis, and it shares their ideas on how to address it. I think that’s a perspective that has really been needed in this conversation for a long time.”
His first book, Fighting for Space: How a group of drug addicts transformed one city’s battle with addiction, documented how a group of street-based drug users in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside mobilized community and politicians to promote harm-reduction initiatives that led to North America’s first legal supervised injection site. Two of the main characters, Ann Livingston and Liz Evans, played a crucial role in getting many Vancouver residents to question the value of drug bans and prefer to view addiction as a health problem.
IN Light Up the Night: America’s Overdose Crisis and the Drug Users Fighting for Survival, Lupick focuses on two female protagonists: Jess Tilley from Northampton, Massachusetts, and resident of Greensboro, North Carolina, Louise Vincent. Tilley is president of the New England Users Union and Vincent is the CEO of the Urban Survivors Union. Lupick focused on them because he felt it was important to describe the impact of the overdose crisis outside of New York or Los Angeles, where so many of America’s stories come from.
“They are also struggling with a very different manifestation of the war on drugs,” Lupick added. “It was the biggest surprise and learning curve for me Light up at nightcoming from Canada. “
He was aware that the police in the United States are more violent than their counterparts in Vancouver, but he was not aware of how radically different the war on drugs takes place in America. In Vancouver, for example, Livingston and former park commissioner Sarah Blyth were able to pitch a tent in a back alley, invite the media and start an illegal injection site.
“The police would somehow look in from the corners,” Lupick said. “If you did that in the United States, you would go to jail. You would go to jail very quickly. “
But in light of this, Tilley and Vincent have organized drug users into a national union across the United States. By telling their stories, Lupic was able to continue the narrative he began in Fighting for space, only this time explore the overdose crisis south of the border.
Although there is a vociferous minority calling for a drug policy reform in the United States, it still does not have the general support. That makes Lupick somewhat pessimistic about the prospect of real change that could reverse the catastrophic number of overdose deaths in so many states.
“Most people want people who use drugs to go to jail,” he said.
Lupic quickly added that he has seen pockets of hope. For example, New York City opened the first sanctioned injection facility in the United States in late November with the help of people who played a key role in the creation of the Insite in Vancouver.
“Needle exchange is increasingly available in more jurisdictions,” he noted. “There are a few areas where methadone is easier to obtain, but in other ways, the war on drugs is more serious than ever.”
This is most evident in the federal response to the fentanyl crisis.
“I enter Light up at night that the US government’s response to fentanyl is the greatest intensification of the war on drugs that we have seen in a generation, ”Lupick declared.
It has come through the adoption of the “drug-induced homicide charge”, also called “death by distribution”. If a boyfriend goes out to get heroin for him and his girlfriend, he will be charged with murder if she happens to die of an overdose – even if he is not aware that the drugs he bought were poisoned with fentanyl or other substance.
“So in some ways, the war on drugs is softer,” Lupick said. “In other ways, it’s more serious than ever – in response to fentanyl, in particular.”