GREENSBORO, NC – It’s a tough conversation; an uncomfortable topic. But for Louise Vincent, it’s a conversation and topic she has no choice but to address.

Drug addiction.

Vincent, herself, struggled with addiction for years. A sickness eating away at her. A sickness which killed her daughter.

“It’s the most horrible thing I can imagine and I believe it’s the most horrible thing anyone can imagine,” said Vincent.

Her 19-year-old daughter, Selena, died of a drug overdose while in treatment in March of 2016. Louise, clean for 10 years, said her daughter began struggling as a teenager.

“If you could talk away addiction, we would have talked it away,” Vincent said as tears formed in her eyes. “We talked about drugs, we talked about addiction in the family. We talked about everything a mother and daughter can talk about with addiction.”

The pain of losing her own children could have sent Vincent in a downward spiral. But her work to keep others safe and alive, saved her own life. She’s worked as a harm reduction specialist for over a decade and in the past two years, became the Executive Director of the local chapter of Urban Survivor’s Union . The organization has one main goal- to meet people struggling with addiction where they are, no matter what.

“We help people at any stage of the drug use continuum. Most places, you can’t get help if you are using drugs. Here, we help people that are unwillingly or unable to stop using drugs.”

Naloxone.
Naloxone.

The facility where Selena spent her final days didn’t have Naloxone, a medication which reverses and prevents drug overdoses. Vincent’s organization strives to provide Naloxone to family members and drug users and has an initiative to provide the medication to all jails and rehab facilities.

“Not a day goes by that I don’t get a call from somebody that I have provided Naloxone to or I have provided Naloxone training to that they say thank God I have that.”

The goal of harm reduction is to use education, intervention and programs, such as needle exchange to reduce drug-related harm and death. It’s one of the reasons Vincent’s organization relies on a needle exchange program.

Vincent said, “If we don’t keep people healthy and we don’t keep people alive, they can never find recovery.”

Governor Pat McCrory signed HB972 into law, allowing syringe and needle exchange programs. North Carolina became the 33rd state to implement such a program.

There is plenty of negative stigma surrounded safe places and needle exchange programs. Prior to the current North Carolina law, Representative Larry Pittman voiced his concern to the House floor.

“Somebody may come in and get a clean needle and take it out, and it was clean until they used it and shared it with someone else," said Pittman.

The Federal Department of Health and Human Services reported needle exchange programs reduce HIV and Hepatitis C transmission, but none of the department’s multiple studies show an increase of drug use due to the program.

The bill ultimately passed 89-19, and became law after McCrory signed on July 11, 2016.

Needle exchange and safe places work, according to Vincent, because it allows drug users to build a trust with people, which later leads to them coming back when they are ready to quit.

Louise Vincent explaining needle exchange programs.
Louise Vincent explaining needle exchange programs.

Vincent said she’s not an advocate for drug use, rather she understands people will only seek help, once they are ready. Safe places and needle exchange programs are a way to get drug users in the door.

“Anybody that’s tried to make somebody stop using drugs knows, that doesn’t work very well. If someone wants to use drugs it is next to impossible to force them to stop using drugs.”

CBS News reported heroin overdose deaths in NC rose 584% in the last four years. Vincent said arresting drug users and stigmatizing them doesn’t help them find recovery.

“What’s happened is they have tried and tried and failed and failed and so they do give up and they do stop trying and chaotic use sets in and that’s when you see everything failing apart and insanity and the community.”

The organization provides multiple other resources for helping people cope with their addiction.

As for her daughter, the lost Selena, Vincent longingly looked at a picture of her in a cap and gown on graduation day. With a broken voice, she said, “I just miss her terribly, I just miss her terribly. There was so much more I wanted to do. There was so much more I wanted to do but I will not let her memory die in vain. Her memory will mean something.”

Urban Survivor’s Union is hosting a “Selena Lives Overdose Awareness Day” on August 11, 2016 at Castle McCullough. The event will allow people to receive Naloxone and harm reduction training.

As for weekly help, the organization holds a community event every Tuesday from 7PM to 9PM at 2300 W. Meadowview Road. On Fridays, an Any Positive Change Support Group meets from 12:15PM to 1:00PM.