Final Interview Project

 

I had originally created an interview project on feminism. I was enthusiastic about my project, and I had wonderful people that I interviewed. I had learned a lot, and I loved the way that my project had turned out.

            This was before I was accepted to become part of a harm reduction program, which would put me in direct contact with both former and current drug addicts, and I would have to practice interviewing drug users and abusers. The company sent me to a few different sites, and I learned to pick out the signs of who was a user, an abuser, a victim, or in recovery. After my work had been finished, I stuck around for a bit and asked three different people questions about their time in drug work – a receptionist that saw it all, a user, and an abuser. I have decided to restructure my project, to successfully integrate what I have learned about drug use and abuse into a project that seems a little more universal and relevant to my time at John Jay College. Feminism is incredibly important to me, but this is something that can be incredibly important to everyone.  

 

Proposal:

 

Some people are able to use recreational drugs (like ecstasy and cocaine) or prescription drugs (like Codeine and Percocet) while never experiencing undesirable magnitudes, or addiction. For many others, though, substance abuse can cause problems in the home, at work, at school, or in relationships, leaving the user and those that love them feeling isolated, destitute, or humiliated and powerless.

It’s easy to understand why drug use is an important thing to study, because by learning what the warning signs are, more addictions can be prevented. Learning about the nature of drug abuse and addiction such as how the addiction develops, what it looks like, and why it can have such a powerful hold gives doctors, scientists, and psychologists better understandings of the problem, and how to best deal with it.

The experiences that drug use can produce are often unique, especially for those who are more or less vulnerable to addiction. As with many other conditions or diseases, your genes, mental health, and environment can and do play a role in addiction. Risk factors can include a family history of addiction, “abuse, neglect, or other traumatic experiences in childhood, mental disorders such as depression and anxiety” (Marlatt), the method of administration of the drug, and how early someone begins to use. People who experiment with drugs will then continue to use them because the substance either makes them feel good, or more likely, because the substance stops them from feeling bad. Usually, though, there is a very fine line between regular use and drug addiction. The reality is that very few addicts are able to recognize when they have crossed this invisible, hard-to-pin-down line. While “frequency or the amount of drugs consumed don’t in themselves constitute drug abuse or addiction” (Marlatt), they can often be indicators of drug-related problems. The high-functioning myth that addiction is a disease that cannot be solved is toxic, because it is preventing people from getting the help that they need. Most experts will agree that “addiction is a brain disease, but that doesn’t mean you’re a helpless victim” (Cooper). The brain changes associated with addiction can be “treated and reversed through therapy, medication, exercise, and other treatments” (Cooper).

Harm reduction is one of the ways that drug addicts are regulated and treated. Harm reduction incorporates a spectrum of strategies from safer use, from managed use to abstinence, to meeting drug users in the middle by “addressing conditions of use along with the use itself” (Islam). Because harm reduction demands that “interventions and policies designed to serve drug users reflect specific individual and community needs, there is no universal definition of or formula for implementing harm reduction” (Islam). The people that I interviewed are all involved in harm reduction in some way, and this helps to legitimize the work that harm reduction is doing. This interview-study is meant to show people that while addiction may be scary, the people that are involved in it are not horrible bad guys that should be tossed to the wayside, as well as reach a conclusion on how drugs on the Upper West Side affect the average person living there.

 

Methods:

 

Participants:

 

My first interviewed participant is a young, hardworking professional that is considered a friend, an ally, and confidant to the people that go in and out of the building. She is at ease with her employers and with the recovering addicts that live downstairs. When I spoke to her about her experiences with drugs and crime, her very disposition changed from that of a self-assured employee, back to a scared teenager that ran when she heard gunshots. Her smile is genuine and her laugh is infectious, and she speaks of her experiences with a quiet acceptance and wisdom far beyond her years. She is twenty-three and Latina and has experimented with drugs herself, but just barely. My second interviewed participant is a little older than the first, a rebellious white woman well-versed in things that I have never even come in physical contact with. A smile plays across her lips as I ask her questions about her life, in a way that can be considered nothing but mischievous. The same type of girl that got her fake ID at a young age, she is the epitome of the dark Manhattan baby that will someday run the world, if not arrested first. My last participant is a 28-year-old man that has lived through hell and back, overcoming his addiction as quickly as it captured him. “I’m in the school of life,” he tells me, when I ask him about higher education. With his close-cropped hair, his earring, and his Brooklyn accent hiding behind his knowing smile, he’s dangerous and attractive. I picked these three people because they have all been affected by drug use in some way, but in different ways. This is in order to not form a prejudiced conclusion in my analysis, and to keep me grounded during the interview process itself.

 

Procedure:

 

I found all of my participants within two days, each of them relatively bored and more than eager to talk about their experiences. The interviews took place in a relatively remote location in Riverside Park on 83rd street, hidden under the highway to a scenic view overlooking New Jersey and the Hudson River. My first participant’s interview took twelve minutes, but these twelve minutes were fairly broken apart because of how much we would talk and giggle about other things. My second interview was much more straightforward and took fourteen minutes, and my last interview with the recovering addict took eighteen minutes all together. I recorded an audiotape of each interview on my iPhone 4, as well as took notes rapidly in a notebook and carefully studied my interviewees. I had created a category for experiences, one for perceptions, and one for how drug use has changed in the neighborhood. With this, I kept careful tabs on each of my participants as they brought up points that had related to my carefully created groups.

 

Analysis:

 

In order to fully understand how the participants felt about the change of drug use and abuse in my neighborhood, I had to analyze the recordings with an incredible amount of attention to detail, as well as understand the structure of the way we were communicating and attempt to recreate the gestures and facial expressions that were sought after. First, the character of the expressions when asked about certain topics allowed me to comprehend whether the question was important to the participant (or not). Secondly, the gesticulations I had written down subsidized my investigative understanding of either aversion or approval of the interviewee. I then had to collect all of the straightforward answers, which would help to summarize the opinions and personalities of each of my subjects. Finally, I carefully studied my characterization model for each interviewed person to help define their opinions on how drug use has changed. Furthermore, I averaged my pieces of data from my various procedural methods, into one theory fueled by my participants on how drug use has changed in my neighborhood, based on those who have to see it nearly every day.

 

Findings:

 

I’m aware that the people in my neighborhood and the work that I do creates an isolated incident for me, a dent in the otherwise clean-cut data of the rest of my neighborhood. My home specializes in temporary residence – it was hard trying to find people that had been living on the Upper West Side long enough to even consider the crime around them, much less how to seek it out through drug use and abuse. The recovering addicts in my neighborhood give my interviews a certain edge, but now I know more about the drugs in my neighborhood than I ever would have thought about. According to my research, some particular drug use has increased, some has decreased. Prescription pills are seen often, as are the “whiter” drugs – cocaine instead of crack. This all makes sense – I am in an upper-class part of New York City, of course the drugs (and drug users) have gone along with this social construction.

Crime from drug use, on the other hand, seems to have gone down in my city, where it had been fairly infamous. This was made clear interviewing my first participant. “I keep seeing teenagers get picked up by the cops,” she told me, not looking at me, lost in her own thoughts. “They’re small-time drug dealers and they get themselves arrested, and their whole lives are messed up because of that.” She did not expect me to nod in agreement; I am listening as she continues. “I seen people get jumped, I seen people get robbed or some shit,” she’s saying absently. She expresses her frustration in the younger drug dealers. “It’s worse now…it’s worse now because you got the young guys doin’ it. They should be in school but they out dealin’ and they gettin’ arrested at fourteen, fifteen, like my brother’s little brother just got harassed by the cops cause he out dealin’, and I just had to talk him down on the phone to not like beat anyone up…” The second woman treats drugs with a much more lighthearted air. “It’s gotten way better,” told me, when I questioned her about being able to find drugs anywhere. “The police are around more often, and it’s gotten much more under control.” I had asked her if there was ever a time that she would have needed the police, and she thinks it over for a moment. “I don’t really go out alone,” she confesses, “I don’t like being alone much.” Lastly, my recovering addict friend was a little hesitant when explaining how drug use in the neighborhood has changed. His answer differs from the two women, who haven’t truly been in the thick of the action. “Oh, it’s gotten worse. Definitely worse.” I asked him about staying away from Riverside Park in the middle of the night, and he giggled, then sobered up. “Yeah. Don’t go to Riverside Park in the middle of the night.” I started to quiz him about the drugs, and he is nodding along to every drug that I list. “Per…cocet?” I stumble over the word; he says it automatically. “Percocet.” These are the drugs that people are taking more. Weed use is declining, heroin is going up. Prescription drugs are all the rage until someone gets a taste of heroin, and then it’s incredibly hard for them to go back. That’s where my new business comes in.

I will never feel danger walking in my neighborhood, as my friends in Harlem will. The recovering addicts and current addicts that I work with do not scare me, because they came to my neighborhood to make themselves better. This must mean that it is safe; programs like theirs could not happen if there was a strong chance of relapse in my neighborhood. I was warned to stay out of the park at night, but when I would go, I was never harassed by a drug dealer, as I had been led to believe, but instead spoken to paternally by a police officer, who gave the impression that his primary concern was my safety. Drugs in my neighborhood are there, but you have to actively search them out.

 

CITED SOURCES

 

Cooper, Charlie (March 2014). “NICE: Needle Exchanges Should Supply Safe Equipment To Under-18 Steroid Users”. The Independent (London).

 

Islam, Mark (2010). “Needle Syringe Program-Based Primary Health Care Centers: Advantages and Disadvantages”. Journal of Primary Care & Community Health.

 

Marlatt, Alan (2002). “Highlights of Harm Reduction”. Harm Reduction: Pragmatic Strategies for Managing High-Risk Behaviors. Guilford Press.

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