Month: May 2016

Heroin Addicts Are Turning to Tumblr to Tell Their Stories — And Save Lives

Originally published in Mic.

“One and done is the rule for using needles,” Nicole*, an 18-year-old from Long Island, New York, writes on her Tumblr, nicolethedopefiendqueen. “After you use it once, dispose of it (capped, in a sharps or other container); you really shouldn’t be reusing needles if you can help it. A fresh, new needle is always better than a used one, even if it’s been sterilized.”

Nicole is an active heroin user. In an email interview, she said she began using at 14 after coming across her terminally ill father’s OxyContin prescription, which eventually evolved into heroin use. On her Tumblr, she posts selfies and re-blogs moody screengrabs from drug movies like Trainspotting, as well as close-up shots of spoons, lighters and syringes.

But to hear Nicole tell it, she doesn’t just use Tumblr as a platform for blogging about her heroin use. She also teaches other users how to do heroin safely. Her blog contains information about what to do if an overdose occurs, as well as how to administer Narcan (naloxone), an emergency antidote to treat opiate overdose.

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“I decided that if I’m going to have a drug addiction blog with lots of followers, I must spread harm reduction information, because addicts deserve to be healthy and to live,” Nicole said in an email interview. “I advocate for safe intravenous drug use, especially to help prevent infection and overdoses.”

Heroin addiction is a rapidly growing epidemic in the United States. The Harm Reduction Coalition reports that overdose is the leading cause of preventable accidental death in the United States, second only to car accidents. Since 2000, opiate overdoses have increased by 200%, in large part as a result of an increase of pain medication prescription, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. Because pills and heroin are sold on the black market, opiate use can be difficult to track, but a 2014 report estimates there are 1.5 million “chronic” heroin users in the United States.

Nicole’s blog is one of many on Tumblr that track the lives of regular opiate users. Many of such blogs’ posts feature the hashtag #nodsquad, a community that curates images of drug paraphernalia as well as information and resources promoting safe drug use.

Such blogs are based on the principles of harm reduction, which aims to reduce harm associated with drug use, such as overdose and spread of diseases like hepatitis C or HIV, through counseling, opiate substitution programs like methadone and safer injection facilities, or legal, supervised injection facilities where people can use heroin under medical supervision. (There are currently no supervised injection sites in the United States, but some cities and states like New York have toyed with the idea of introducing them.)

As Nicole explains it, “harm reduction is about reducing the damage and harm done from using. It’s not about stopping use, it’s about safety, which is the realistic approach to saving addicts in this epidemic.”

It’s a strategy distinct from abstinence-only programs such as traditional 12-step recovery methods, as harm reduction psychotherapist Eddie Einbinder said in a phone interview. “Harm reduction is not anti-abstinence,” Einbinder stressed. “Harm reduction is pro-choice.”

Susan E. Collins, co-director of the Harm Reduction Research and Treatment Center, thinks Tumblr blogs like Nicole’s can help to reduce harm caused by heroin use.

“[Nicole] is a person who appears to really care about her community, and is trying to help people use safer,” Collins said in a phone interview. “She is trying to reduce harm, and is being honest about where she’s at and her recovery. Personally, I think all of that is really admirable.”

Social media has created a space that didn’t previously exist for active users to connect with others and share information about how to use drugs safely, such as how to sterilize a needleafter use.

“A core concept of harm reduction is meeting people where they are, and I feel like most people don’t spend their spare time reading up on harm reduction techniques. But people spend time on social media like Tumblr,” Caroline, who keeps her own harm reduction blog, fuckyeah-harmreduction, told Mic in an email.

“Having a resource for harm reduction information on a platform that people are already using is a great idea.”

Caroline is not a user, but she became involved in the movement through a harm reduction organization she volunteers at in Washington, D.C., most often doing needle exchange or distributing safer sex supplies.

That said, some of the information being shared on Tumblr, such as user videos on how to shoot up safely, can be shocking to watch for those unfamiliar with intravenous drug use. Such videos, as well as artily lit images of spoons and stashes, has prompted debate as to whether such blogs glamorize drug use. It’s also worth noting that some users visit the blogs as a way to find drugs, if asks from users looking to score in a new town or city are any indication.

“Could it glamorize the use? I think yes,” Einbinder said in a phone interview. “It is hard to create a completely objective vision when you’re creating different forms of reality.”

Other professionals agree that the Tumblr community has potential for both help and harm.

“On the one hand, users are often the experts of their experiences and their own needs. If a user is generating content which is informed, safe, promotes hygiene, and teaches people how to reduce risks, then it can be powerful and helpful in a way that resonates with other users,” Sheila Vakharia, a coordinator of a substance abuse counseling concentration for students at Long Island University, Brooklyn, said via email interview.

“However, if user-generated content is full of people doing things in risky, unhygienic ways or if they are sharing false, mixed, or un-researched information, it can be just as harmful as any other problematic content on the web.”

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The blogs also raise the question as to whether Tumblr has any obligation to monitor content that promotes drug use on the platform.  (Mic has reached out to Tumblr for comment, and have not received a response at the time of publication.)

“I don’t necessarily think that platforms have a responsibility to monitor drug use content because it seems like a slippery slope,” Vakharia said. “I also understand that sales or advertisements of illicit drugs are in violation of laws. However, instructional videos from the health professions show doctors/nurses injecting patients all the time. Should a video of a person doing it to themselves be censored because the vial is filled with a substance that we think is illegal?”

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The Sad Story of the Ted Cruz Lookalike Who’s Shooting Porn

I covered the Ted Cruz porn lookalike for Playboy.

Presidential hopeful and banner of dildos Ted Cruz is not doing porn. However, 21-year-old Searcy Hayes from Natchez, Miss., who happens to resemble Ted Cruz, is. And while plenty of folks have had a good laugh about this, her story is anything but funny.

Like so many women who face the decision of whether to do sex work, she’s doing it because she needs the money. Hayes, who lives with her family in a trailer park, told Playboy she currently makes $100-$200 a month cleaning houses. Her fiancé and soon-to-be adult costar brings in $733 a month from disability payments.

Hayes went viral after appearing on Maury to prove her fiancé, 25-year-old Freddie Green, was the father of her three-month-old-child. (He is). Hayes has another son who is nearly three in the care of her mother. After she appeared on Maury, a meme posted on Redditcirculated comparing her appearance to Cruz. The viral image caught the eyes of xHampster.com publicist Mike Kulich, who offered her $10,000 for a six-minute adult film, which will be available to view for free on the website. Hayes will shoot the video at home with her fiancé. “[Kulich] just told us do as many [sexual positions] as we can in six minutes,” says Hayes.

Kulich says he has seen the film, and viewers should expect “lots of hardcore BBW action between two people who truly love each other.” However, when I asked Hayes that same day, she said she has not yet shot the film but was planning to in the next few days.

No doubt there is an audience of people who to want to see a female version of “Lucifer in the Flesh” Cruz (a comparison Satanists have protested) getting nailed.

“I think Cruz is horrible, and I’d really like to get him out of the race. It’s fun controlling the internet conversation,” says Kulich.

However, for the trolls and commenters, the laughs have shifted from Cruz to Hayes, who may be the butt of a joke she doesn’t entirely get.

“I wasn’t really familiar with him,” she says of Cruz.

As a promotion for the upcoming film, Hayes has appeared in photos and videos posted to Kulich’s Facebook endorsing Trump. When I asked if she supported Trump, she responded, “I mean, not really.”

Hayes says she’s hearing from folks in Mississippi about her decision to make the film. “All of my friends are telling me that it would ruin my child’s life,” says Hayes, who says it’s the other way around. “The reason I (am) doing it is so my son would have a roof over his head and didn’t have to worry about losing our trailer. I don’t see where we’re ruining our child’s life.”

With the $10,000, Hayes plans to pay off $2,000 of $3,000 owed on her trailer, buy a new truck and make additional purchases to take care of her 3-month-old. “We’re going to buy a walker, buy a high chair, stock up on his diapers, his wipes, buy him clothes.” Hayes says that buying a newer model of a truck is for her son as well, as their current vehicle, a 1997 Mercury Sable, has no heat, no air conditioner and is unsuitable to drive with children. “[With] the car that we have now, I can’t really take him with me. It hurts my feelings because I have to leave him at home.” Like her child, over one-third of Mississippi children live in poverty.

Sydney Leathers, who rose to adult fame from her texting scandal with Anthony Weiner, knows a thing or two about the intersection of porn and politics, and she hopes Hayes has thought this all the way through.

“She should think about her future before actually doing it. It will impact future employment. Everyone she’s ever known will find out. It’s a tough thing to prepare for,” Leathers said. “It sucks, but sex workers are still discriminated against so much. She has no idea what she’s signing up for.”

While $10,000 to screw somebody you already screw may seem like a no-brainer, others are critical of the figure, pointing out that Mama June of Here Comes Honey Boo Boofame was offered $1 million by Vivid for an adult film.

Kulich says the offer is fair. “When you look at the regular adult performer they’re making about $1,000 for a 30-minute scene; $10,000 for a six-minute scene is a very generous offer.”

His figures match up with a CNBC rundown of porn salaries. However, her earnings may not be sustainable. It’s very likely this is a one-time gig.

“It’s generally not a smart financial move to do it if you’re only planning to do one. Money goes fast, so if you’re not committed to making this your career path, it’s a mistake,” says Leathers.

Hayes says she’s open to doing more porn and has even picked up a laptop for the possibility of cam work for additional income.

Ultimately, Hayes is an adult, capable of making her own decisions about sex work, ones that should be respected. “Everybody is still going to sit there and give me bad mouth because of what I’m doing, but it’s not what everybody else thinks, it’s what I think about it,” she said.