Interview with Lizzie Maldonado
Lizzie Maldonado is the co-founder O.D. AID, an organization that educates individuals about the opioid epidemic and helps distribute treatment to at-risk individuals. This interview took place on October 8th, 2019.
It would be helpful if you talk a little bit about your background and what your organization does.
I am with an organization in Fort Worth, Texas, called O.D. AID, which is basically just distributing Narcan and naloxone, as well as education and building awareness in Fort Worth. We are just three people. We don’t even have 501(c)(3) status or anything yet. We are working on all of that. But we just kind of met and started organizing to change the perception of drug users in our communities together. So, we have been working on it for the better part of this year.
You started the organization with two others. How did you meet each other and eventually collaborate to create this organization?
Vicky always tells it really funny, but at least I started posting around and I am a community organizer in Fort Worth for a lot of other causes. It fuses well. I wanted to sort of get involved in harm reduction work and make it my priority and really spend the bulk of my time there. So, I started reaching to other activists and organizers that I knew from other organizing projects that we have been doing in the city. And basically just asked: Who wants to devote most of their time to organizing for harm reduction? I met Vicky at that time and Rachel had already been involved organizing with me on other issues and she jumped on board as well.
How long has the organization been active?
Since maybe February or March.
What would you say are the main activities that O.D. AID does?
We host training and other events to build awareness and change of perception for drug users, to reduce stigma, and change the way people feel about drug use. A lot of times people, you know, people have different types of interactions with addictions and drug use. They are either an addict (a person who uses drugs) themselves or they have a friend or family member that they see struggle over time. This issue really affects some of everyone in one way or another, so people have a lot of really strong feelings about it. There’ is a lot of people who are very into the crime and punishment angle of things and think that drug use needs to be curb with the full weight and extent of the law I guess. And there are people that are medical practitioners, counselor, family members, and lots of different stakeholders group that want to see a more compassionate response — and be more effective, also. So, I think, basically, we bring those people together in overdose prevention training because we distribute Narcan and naloxone. We are raising money to do this more full time as well. We have a lot of opportunities to do training, at like local shelter and different rehab facilities and hospitals and things like that on how to prevent overdose. And right now, the big issue is that there are only three of us. We obviously all work full time as well, so just our resources are as sparse and thin as they can be right now.
Since your organization become active and you started doing training, what was the most memorable experience you had, whether that was something you observed or something you heard someone say that stuck with you?
I can think of a couple of things. For me, at least personally from the aspect I am working with, there were several women who were organizing for harm reduction locally for several years when their children passed away from overdose. And I think that one of the most heartwarming things I have seen personally at least in joining the ranks of primarily women who are already fighting at least in my communities was giving them that sense of solidarity. You know, I think they sort of felt some relief that reinforcement is coming, um so that was really heartwarming. And in another training, one woman came, definitely had used, and she was sort of nodding off at the training. And then she decided to leave like five minutes into it and a lot of people who attended that training were social workers, counselors, or people who don’t have a history of drug use themselves. Some people who come have a history of drug use or are current drug users want Narcan and naloxone and but maybe being in a social setting that wasn’t going to work for her that day. I basically saw her leaving and just grabbed a couple of kits of Narcan and naloxone and just ran out after her. Gave her a little five minutes training on how to use the kit and how to recognize an overdose and what to do. She was really teary and gave me a hug and said that she didn’t really feel like I should give her one because she didn't sit through the training. To me, it was a little bit indicative of how people are treated in recovery programs, that they only get help if they are willing to go sit through whatever the thing is that the organization or social agency or whatever that is providing. To me, at least that exchange was very powerful that she was moved by the idea that she didn't have to give me anything or do anything. She didn’t have to come to the training, I just wanted her to have the drug because I thought she probably could use it.
Since you started the organization, was there anything you came across that changed your perspective on the crisis?
I definitely have learned a lot. We have worked with Mark Kinzly from the Texas Overdose Naloxone Initiative or TONI, he is out of Austin. And he has definitely taught me a lot about other things we could do as a community to respond. We can't expect police or drug enforcement agencies fighting the War on Drugs to solve this problem. It is totally incapable of addressing this issue or any drug addiction related issue. At least so far how we have approached it is learning how people around the country are organizing to provide and respond to their community needs. So, we are just learning more and more that we don’t just have to provide awareness and distribution on Narcan and naloxone. We can actually work with local lawmakers and agencies to provide more compassionate solutions at a systemic level. so that is definitely something that has changed my perspective. Seeing other organizations that are organizing in a very proactive and systematic way to provide wider scale solution than meeting immediate needs, and they are also doing that. So that is sort of interesting to see the wide range of tactics that people are using to address the crisis in the community.
What would you say is the single biggest barrier or bottleneck prevents individuals from having access to naloxone?
I think there are definitely a few things, not just one, such as lack of awareness that naloxone even exists. Everyone I talked to that lost a child or lost a family member had never heard of it before that person passed away. And these are people who are involved in rehab programs and the criminal justice system. A lot of the time, especially when I am talking to parents of minors, and I have no idea how people are going through that entire process and not hearing about this simple easily accessible drug that can prevent death by overdose. So, I definitely think that awareness is a problem. Coupled with awareness is that stigma that, you know, that we hear once a week that overdose is Darwinism at work and we really shouldn’t intervene, as if they feel the same way for anything else, like heart attacks you know many complications from any accumulation of environmental factors that people have been exposed to. So, I don’t know if that is answering your question, but I definitely think it is a wide range of things that is awareness and stigma. Also, then at a pharmacy near you can get Narcan and naloxone, but it is usually around $130 to $200 dollars for a single dose. Which isn’t a big problem for your average middle-class families with someone in the family that is going through addiction. But for a lot of users, if they are going have to make the decision between more drugs or this $130-dollar seat belt they are not going to invest in having that. And it is sort of outrageous it is that expensive for consumers. Since we can get it so cheap just by ordering in bulk, so someone is making a gross amount of profit in along the way. So, in that I know it is not a single issue, it is several.
What are the top 2 or 3 resources that you wish you have more of to help you achieve your objective as an organization?
We have been very gifted with volunteers and people who are willing to give their homes and talent and energy and all that. I would say at least every single dollar that comes in our organization goes directly toward buying more Narcan and naloxone. So, money definitely is the resource we need the most. And I guess working on addressing this one, but having basically more trainers that can do the training because like I said that we are asked to be in a lot of places already. There are only three of us, and we also work. We have lots of volunteers, but we'll also be organizing like a train the trainer event, where we basically teach people how to host their own overdose prevention training. We will hopefully be responding to a lot more of those requests because people are really thirsty for the information I think right now. We are just limited by people who have enough information and I guess feel confident enough to speak to the issues so we are sort of adjusting to that one now.
How long does a training take on average?
Two hours. I mean the training on how to use Narcan and naloxone is 5 minutes. The training at large is about the opioid crisis and basically why we need harm reduction model that address the reality of people and that part takes an hour and 55 minutes.