Shilo Murphy is the executive director of the People's Harm Reduction Alliance.

Shilo Murphy is the executive director of the People’s Harm Reduction Alliance.

Photo courtesy of Shilo Murphy

Last month, the People’s Harm Reduction Alliance launched a new initiative distributing free meth pipes to drug users. The project, which is part of an ongoing plan to support and protect Portland’s community of drug users, aims to limit the spread of disease.

The organization’s approach to helping drug users is marked by its efforts in providing free, sterile drug paraphernalia and love to members of the drug community.

In an interview Tuesday with Dave Miller of “Think Out Loud,” Shilo Murphy, the PHRA’s Executive Director, provided insight into the organization’s recent decision to expand support services to include meth pipes.

“We’ve forgotten about a population of people who were using drugs: smokers,” Murphy said. “We made it easier to get syringes than getting pipes to smoke.”

By providing a needle exchange, the PHRA, like other needle dispensaries and exchanges, was giving injection drug users a safer alternative to sharing needles and subsequently diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C. However, according to Murphy, needle services could also have tempted drug smokers with broken or unclean paraphernalia to begin injecting due to the availability of clean needles and the lack of sterile pipes.

Murphy says smoking is a safer alternative to taking drugs by injection.

“We want people to use the safest means possible,” he said.

According to Murphy, the differences between the PHRA and some other drug user support organizations are their “for drug users, by drug users” corporate structure and their focus on the safe use of drugs without the punitive push for sobriety. The PHRA is guided by and employs active and former drug users on staff, and Murphy has stated that he is an active drug user. He says the organization is dedicated to accepting drug users just the way they are, without the mandate of sobriety for support or the goal of rehabilitation.

“The way we look at it is if you want to serve a community, you should have lots of people in that community to be a part of it,” Murphy said.

When asked whether the PHRA’s non-rehabilitation approach might actually enable dangerous drug use, Murphy said drug policy and stigmas around drug users are the real danger.

“If you want to fight the war on addiction let’s not fight the drug user; let’s fight the conditions, let’s fight the trauma, let’s fight the abuse that person has lived under,” Murphy said. “It is stigma, and it is abuse, and it is hatred that has gotten us to this place, and we will only defeat that with love and compassion.”

Murphy says the PHRA’s next service to the drug community will be a consumption room planned to open in the coming year at the organization’s Seattle branch. This consumption room is envisioned as a safe and sterile place where users can inject or smoke drugs in a controlled environment. Murphy said he sees this new offering as a needed and exciting step in limiting the “epidemic of overdose.”