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DPA Podcast Episode 39: After Her Son Overdosed and Died, Jessie Dunleavy Realized it Was Preventable

Jessie Dunleavy always knew her son Paul was unique. He struggled throughout his life – to learn, to be accepted – and she tried however she could to help him along the way. But as he got older, and began to struggle with drug use, system after system began to shut them out. Where he needed hope, he got silence; where he needed support, he got punishment. In April 2017, Paul overdosed and died. Devastated by his passing, Jessie began to learn as much as she could. In the process, she uncovered unknown details of her son’s life, glimpsed the depth of the injustices he was subjected to, and realized that his death had been preventable. In her new memoir, Cover My Dreams in Ink, she chronicles her journey from concerned mother to outspoken advocate.

Visit Jessie’s website for more information about her work and her book. To learn more about the Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition and The Maryland Harm Reduction Action Network, visit baltimoreharmreduction.org and/or check out @BmoreHRC on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. For DPA’s work around overdose prevention, visit drugpolicy.org/overdose.

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Transcript

(Jazzy intro music in)

Welcome to Drugs and Stuff, a podcast from the Drug Policy Alliance.

(Jazzy intro music out)

Gabriella Miyares  (0:10)  
Welcome to Drugs and Stuff. Today, I'm so happy to have with us author, advocate, and mother Jessie Dunleavy. Jessie recently published a book called Cover My Dreams in Ink, a memoir that focuses on the life of her son Paul, lost to a drug overdose in 2017. Jessie, thank you so much for joining us today.

Jessie Dunleavy  (0:31)  
Thank you so much for having me. It's really my pleasure.

Gabriella Miyares  (0:34)  
Jessie, so, I read your book just this past weekend, and it was so moving. It's a really powerful portrait of your son. It's an honor to his memory. And it's also a really compelling dive into your own struggles in raising him, and all of the choices that you made along the way. So my first question is, could you tell us a little bit about Paul?

Jessie Dunleavy  (0:58)  
Sure. Telling you a little bit about Paul is a challenge. But I can start from when he was young, and tell you that the word most often used to describe him was unique. And that was teachers, doctors, professionals that that I encountered. He had learning problems. They were identified when he was very young, but he didn't really ever fit into one particular diagnosis. Down the road, some suggested maybe he was on the autism spectrum, but he didn't exactly fit that either. And on the surface, he didn't appear to have disabilities. But among his challenges were attentional problems, a language impairment, and he had a hand tremor. And, and the combination of those issues that he struggled with, worked against his ability to demonstrate what he knew. And that was true in school and out of school. So he was basically misunderstood and always underestimated. But he longed for more connections, human connections. And that made him ripe for being taken advantage of. Among his strengths, which were lifelong, were his curiosity. And he was also extremely sensitive, and not just sensitive in terms of self-sensitivity, but he had a lot of empathy. He was definitely insightful. I listened to him when he would tell me, you know, someone that was a nice person or not such a nice person. He was sweet natured, and he was gentle. Teachers loved him. And he was always kind to his peers. So he just came out of the gate with challenges, and he didn't know any different. And so he did the best he could. But, but as I said, he was always kind.

Gabriella Miyares  (2:52)  
Yeah, he sounds like such an incredible person. And as I, as I mentioned, in the memoir, I feel like I came away, after having read it, like really knowing Paul, really knowing him as a person, and I think that's a testament to your writing and, you know, to the life that he lived as well. So in the prologue of the book, you mentioned how failed systems really contributed a lot to your son's suffering and eventual overdose. Specifically, you mentioned the educational, healthcare, and legal systems. So can you talk a little bit about your interactions with those systems over the years, and what you discovered as you, you know, encountered them?

Jessie Dunleavy  (3:34)  
Sure. And I guess I'd start by saying we did encounter some good people along the way. So I never want to make a sweeping statement that everything failed us. We met enough good people to sustain us and to keep hope alive. But there wasn't a school that could meet Paul's needs. He was a critical thinker. But at the same time, he was too disabled, to have that recognized, much less nurtured. So interestingly, and you'll know why I think this is interesting, there is a gap between science and practice. And so he in the classroom, he was put in special education and I didn't refute that. But he was either bored or lost. It just never really was able to, to meet his needs. And so he went from school to school, sometimes that was our decision. Sometimes it wasn't. Then there were mental health professionals. At one point, when he was younger, we were in the midst of a medication transition. And we needed the psychiatrist to sanction that process every step of the way. And because the psychiatrist didn't return my calls when it was time to make the change, and I was dependent on him and he consistently didn't return my calls, it cost us the school placement that we were in the midst of seeing. And so that was very frustrating. And finally I threw up my hands. There wasn't, at that time, a psychiatrist in Annapolis, and so we had to travel into Washington to get help. And even then it was a mixed bag. So, you know, the healthcare nightmare of our -- well, I can't say of the whole journey. But when he was still my dependent, was a psychiatric hospital, where he was misdiagnosed, and we were both marginalized. He was overmedicated, causing him to slow down so much cognitively that one doctor outside of that hospital system suspected that he had a degenerative brain disease, but he also was obese, and had been a slight child, but ultimately we found out after we broke free of that nightmare hospital, that he was suffering from medication toxicity. And so he was not only misdiagnosed, but he was overmedicated. Other challenges in healthcare were insurance, and the HIPAA privacy laws. And, you know, really in some ways insurance kept rearing its head, and working against us, and, and so did HIPAA frankly. I understand the law. But when any law trumps common sense, or a life, you have to have the ability to work around it a little bit. And so I didn't, I didn't get the benefit of that. In the last month of his life, he was in a behavioral health hospital that dismissed him and wouldn't communicate with me. Then after that, he said, I'll be fine if I can get Suboxone. And we tried really hard to find somebody to prescribe Suboxone, and couldn't. And then he had a psychiatrist here in town. And that psychiatrist wouldn't call us back either. I came to find out after Paul's death that Paul owed a balance. And so even though Paul had been dismissed from the behavioral health hospital, to the care of a psychiatrist, we, we didn't really have the care of that psychiatrist, and so he never communicated with me, and had he, Paul wouldn't have had a balance. And the legal system, I can get more into that later, but that never worked in our favor. And I can just tell you one situation, before he really tangled with the law as it related to his drug use, was when he was young, and living in home. He threw a cordless phone at me because he was mad. Well, I got mad first, because he was in the shower with the cordless phone. And I raised my voice and told him to get out of shower, get off the phone, and turned to walk away and the phone hit me in the back. And it made me mad. So I called the police, and I didn't have any intention of pressing charges or having any legal consequences. I just said to myself, this is unacceptable, and this will send a message. And the policemen arrived, and Paul was tearful and remorseful. And I could tell he meant it. And the policeman said to me, you know, do you want me to photograph you know, where the phone hit you? I said, you can't even see where the phone hit me. I'm not hurt. I'm just trying to send my son a message. And he said, Well, if you let me take him into the station, he'll remember it more. And I said, No, I don't think that's necessary. And he said, Well, do you want to press charges? I said, No. And he said, Well, come on. Let me take him into the station. It'll be a more memorable experience for him. We won't mistreat him, and I'll call you in an hour or two and you can come pick him up, he'll remember. So I reluctantly said, Okay. A couple hours later, three hours later, it was his bedtime. He needed his medication. And he needed to be in bed. I called the police station and they said, oh, there's no way to get in touch with him. He's in the basement of the courthouse being sentenced. So he was arrested. And you know, once you spent a night in jail, you begin to identify yourself in a way that you wouldn't have. And this was all the result of a policeman lying to me. He flat out lied to me. So that was just scratching the surface in terms of what we would encounter down the road. But I think it's a good example of a system that failed.

Gabriella Miyares  (9:36)  
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, you, you're led to believe one thing and then it's so far from the reality of what happens.

Jessie Dunleavy  (9:44)  
You know, it wasn't till I was writing the book, because it's interesting, an interesting experience when you pull together years of experiences, that you can see things more clearly sometimes. And I thought, he must have had some kind of a quota or something.

Gabriella Miyares  (9:59)  
Yeah.

Jessie Dunleavy  (10:00)  
I don't know. But like the meter maid, you know, she doesn't give a certain amount of tickets in a day. Maybe she's slacking off. And so the way he coerced me into taking that child, but then said, we won't mistreat him, we'll call you. You know, it just, I never doubled back because there was too much going on in my life. But in some ways I wish I had. 

Gabriella Miyares  (10:23)  
Mm hmm. Yeah. So before, you know, before your experiences with Paul, in kind of these realms, did you previously have any experience with them, or any awareness of how they operated? And, you know, specifically, you know, when it came to Paul having some issues with substance use, and how did your feelings about them kind of change over time?

Jessie Dunleavy  (10:49)  
Well, it's a good question. And again, tracing back I can see shifts. By nature, I'm a humanist, you know, I was taught to value different perspectives and to consider the feelings of others. You know, I always supported gay rights and civil rights and human rights. So it's not a big stretch for me to have come to the point where I am now in terms of having so much compassion and empathy for people who fall into chaotic drug use. And I do remember, you know, I, I wasn't the, the least informed of the parents that I know, I remember and I know it was 2008 because I wrote it in a letter when Paul was first incarcerated. And I said to him, I understand why you use drugs. But I -- where I was ignorant was with regard to the treatment system. And I can't say I was comfortable with the 12 step inpatient programs that Paul experienced. But I didn't question it either. 

Gabriella Miyares  (11:58)  
Mm hmm. 

Jessie Dunleavy  (11:59)  
I thought it was in his best interest that I just go along, I almost pretended to be simpatico. When, when I absolutely wasn't. You know, so beyond Paul, who I always supported, and I've told other parents, don't turn your back on your child, I always felt he got a bum deal and I never did turn my back on him. But I've come to see so clearly what I didn't see at the time, and that is, for one, that the war on drugs, sanctions human rights abuse, and it's infected our society as a whole. And it's absolutely tainted the views of so many people playing in a way to our darker selves, you know, it just -- people can be mean. But most have a heart in there somewhere. And it's gonna teeter one way or the other depending on the influences around them. And in the United States, people who suffer from addiction are just lesser humans. They don't deserve care. And, and of course, like I said, prohibition perpetuates it. But I didn't really stop to think about all of those injustices. I was just more focused on Paul. And, and not so much the whole system. And again, I see now that if getting better -- if getting people that suffer better was the goal, then we'd be better at getting people better. We're sort of satisfied with our ignorance, I think. You know, so I just, I've come to feel anger and frustration with a system that just treats substance use disorder so differently than any other medical condition. And, and it just opens my mind to things I never stopped to think about before. And I've learned a lot too from joining forces with local groups. And some might feel like I'm more, further down the path than they are. But I've been fortunate to work with people in Baltimore, like the Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition. Those people are wonderful. It's a, it's an eclectic group, and their passion and their overall commitment to helping others is just, it's just heartwarming. And a lot of these people have first hand experiences. And when I do something like travel to Philadelphia to rally outside the federal courthouse during this Safehouse hearing last summer, and I'm with these people, I feel so proud of my association and getting to know people who've suffered from homelessness and have experienced jail, sex work. And they know better than so many of our legislators. So I just feel privileged to be among them.

Gabriella Miyares  (15:13)  
Yeah, you've really gone on such a journey. And I think the book also does an amazing job of chronicling that, where, you know, as you mentioned, there was a lot of ignorance on your part on, you know, how these systems kind of contributed to the problem in a lot of cases and the fact that you're now -- you've now moved to advocating for change in these systems so strongly is really inspirational and, you know, shows just how how people can change. How people can be, you know, their eyes can be opened and also speaks to the kind of true impact of all of this, you know, both for better and worse. So, I wanted to ask, actually, a bit you mentioned how Paul had, you know, it was a challenge for him to be prescribed buprenorphine. And, you know, a lot of the work that DPA does is in, you know, making that treat-- those kinds of treatments, the medication assisted treatment with methadone, buprenorphine, a lot more accessible and available. So when, when Paul was doing the 12 step kind of programs, you know, inpatient, did, were there alternatives that, you know, that you knew of, or were they just, you know, were they not on your radar, or did they not exist?

Jessie Dunleavy  (16:32)  
They weren't on my radar, and they weren't offered. And so, and this is early on, Paul did get to a point late, in a later treatment experience where he was prescribed Suboxone. So that was probably in 2015. But his first time in a treatment program was probably 2005. So that's 10 years of being in various treatment programs or recovery homes where it was not ever mentioned, and so I was unaware of it. I, I knew about methadone because everybody does. But I didn't know much about it. And I didn't know about buprenorphine. And until Paul was in a treatment facility in Florida, and they prescribed Suboxone, and it made him feel so much better. And so that's why a couple years down the road when he was unable to get treatment for his final relapse, and he'd gone a good long time with without a relapse when he couldn't get treatment and we, we struck out in a number of different ways. He said to me, I'm going to look on the bright side with the failure to get treatment because I can return to work. And he loved his job. He said, but if we can find me a doctor to purchase Suboxone and I can fight this on my own. I know I can. And so we tried and tried, and I hadn't given up. But while in the midst of trying, Paul overdosed and died. And, and you know, at one point went in trying to get the Suboxone, I remember so well, one person, and I don't know if it was the doctor or the person who answered the phone because I made so many calls, really raised his voice with me. I remember holding the phone away from my ear a little bit and he said, Don't you know that just prolongs substance use? Don't you know that that is not the answer to the problem, that that is not what you want to do? Don't you know that he could be on that for the rest of his life? And oh, boy, I wish I had the wherewithal to say, first of all, it doesn't prolong substance use it prolongs life. And secondly, would I rather have him and be on Suboxone for the rest of his life or not have him? That, I mean there's just no excuse for giving a parent in my position, that advice or that information, there's really no excuse. And you know how pervasive that is. And, and not to mention the places that won't accept you if you are on one of those two medications. It's just wrong.

Gabriella Miyares  (19:30)  
Yeah, that's, ugh. That is so tragic. And such a common misconception. I mean, you still hear that.

Jessie Dunleavy  (19:37) 
And, you know, in some, with some places, it's self-serving. With others, I think it's the lack of their own education or open mindedness. 

Gabriella Miyares  (19:46)  
Mm hmm. Yeah, I think that's right.

Jessie Dunleavy  (19:48)  
We more medical professionals involved. There are too many co-occurring conditions and too many medical needs to just forego that involvement.

Gabriella Miyares  (20:01)  
So I'd like to talk a little bit about Paul's experiences and challenges due to his involvement with the criminal justice system, which we spoke a little bit about before. But you know, after, yeah, after his involvement, which I'd love for you to talk about a little bit, you know, he had very strict probation terms, and that kind of affected his life in some different ways. So can you tell us a little bit about, about that?

Jessie Dunleavy  (20:27)  
Sure. Well, he was incarcerated twice for drug related offenses. The first time it was for several months, and then he was sent to treatment, and a two and a half year probation. And when he was one month shy of completing the two and a half year probation, he relapsed, he confessed, and he was incarcerated again. And in that case, it took months to decide his fate. Three court hearings -- you know, felt like a trial. And, and I'm there, and he's in Baltimore. So I have to travel from Annapolis to Baltimore. Where, where, there -- again, looking back, their methodology was to scare him. To give him a taste of how inhumane life could be. There was zero kindness. Each time he stood before the court in an orange jumpsuit, with Gen Pop stenciled on the back, in shackles, each time with his hopes up. And each time being loaded back into the armored bus that took him back to this brutal and violent jail. And he was there for months. And when he was finally released, he was sent to another program, and more than the first one that he was involved in where he did so well for two years and five months, this program that the court released into wasn't really on the up and up. And there was some force that I still don't understand that was trying to get him back in jail. He had a strict set of rules he had to follow, for example, meet with his probation officer then go to his therapist, then go to his house meeting, and these were all over Baltimore. But he was very earnest about things like that. And his probation officer one time was late, 20 minutes late. But yet she kept him for the whole time -- her alloted time. So he was late to his house meeting by 20 minutes, and they put him back in jail. 

Gabriella Miyares  (22:48)  
Wow. 

Jessie Dunleavy  (22:49)  
And so it's, so things that weren't his fault, would get him a sanction that landed him back in this brutal place. And it was just all so unnecessary. And it was working against his faith in the world, and his sense of himself. And so it, it was really a horrible experience. And again, he identified himself as a loser, and is unable to take care of himself too, because he was no match for the people that he was encountering via the guards or the the other inmates, he was still that sweet, gentle soul, who didn't have a lot of confidence and didn't have a lot to say. And he was terribly mistreated. So there's just no excuse for it.

Gabriella Miyares  (23:42)  
Yeah, I think you said earlier, something about where, you know, where laws go, you know, I think in this case, it's even beyond common sense. It's, it's like a sense of humanity. It's a sense of compassion. 

Jessie Dunleavy  (23:56)  
What we need to do, if you ask me, is common sense. In terms of, I don't know how to fix the legal system all the way around, and I do know that we have a high prison population, but not all of that is because of nonviolent drug use. But in terms of what we need to do to reduce overdose deaths, I think that's common sense. And we seem to be the only country that can't get their minds around it. The only modern country anyway.

Gabriella Miyares  (24:29)  
So, tough love is a theme that runs through the book. And it's often paired with your regret in having turned to it as a strategy, but, you know, we see that it's such a common mindset. And when people have loved ones struggling with substance use, it's, you know, something that they often turn to. And I think it it actually parallels what we've just been talking about. It parallels those observations that you know, you've made about us drug policy and, you know, our court system and how we're so hyper focused on these punitive measures as a solution. So do you think that your view of, kind of, tough love and, you know, how we in the US typically treat drug use are kind of interconnected? Where do you think your ideas about tough love came from?

Jessie Dunleavy  (25:19)  
I think that it absolutely came from living in a culture that imbues the sufferer with blame. And, and I really only remember one circumstance in which I absolutely went whole hog tough love, and that is, again, pretty early on in his treatment programs. He relapsed and he was dismissed from the program. And I took him to a homeless shelter. And I'll never forget it, and I was torn, I was really wringing my hands. I didn't know what to do. And we were together, we were in the car, and I said, this is your only choice. And it was a men's homeless shelter in a terrible neighborhood in Baltimore. And you could drop a person off, or, most of them probably didn't get a ride. But you could arrive at -- I forget, 10 o'clock at night, maybe. And then you'd get breakfast and be released at seven in the morning. And so I took him there about 15 minutes before 10. And I let him out of the car, and I watched him get in the line. And I didn't back up at first because I was torn. And then I turned the car around, and I went about a block and I saw a policeman and I lowered my window and I said, My son's in that line, and I hope he's safe, and he said to me, if you want your son to be safe, don't leave him here. And I drove away. I drove home. I cried the whole way home, but I left him there. And so that's the one time that I have such a clear memory of being on that side of the support, not support. And I was just at my wit's end. And I think too, that I thought, he has to learn that he can't do this. And so, I do regret that, because of all the years that I did support him and never turned my back on him -- how do we know that the weeks that followed that, that I know now were among his most harrowing, how do we know where he would have gone had he not experienced what he did then? I can't beat myself up for it, because I can't change it. But I can certainly advise other people to think of other options. And, you know, I was throwing him to the wolves. So it was, it was a hard call on my part, but I didn't do the right thing. He would call me, he always called me. But, you know, I wasn't about to let him come home. 

Gabriella Miyares  (28:08)  
Mm hmm. Yeah. I mean, it's it's such a pervasive, you know, kind of strategy. I mean, you see it, you know, in movies and television, and it's just, it's, you know, even to this day where we, you know, I think, you know, knock on wood alternatives to that are, you know, becoming more visible and hopefully more available, we're certainly fighting for that to happen.

Jessie Dunleavy  (28:34)  
Parents write their child off. You know, just tell them more or less, I don't love you anymore, or maybe not so many words, but don't come home, don't call me. You're on your own. And if you wind up in jail, so be it. So, that is tragic, too. Because most of these people, what they really need is more love. Not punishment and judgment and shame. They need more love. And, and it's not -- it's not an easy system or problem to navigate. Because if your child is actively using, and it is chaotic, you can't always easily have them under your roof. But there are options and help that is beyond just leaving them, especially a person like Paul who was so vulnerable. So I do regret that. But I've told many a friend in the throes of similar decisions, don't turn your back on your child. You know losing a child is a terrible fate. But one thing I'm thankful for is that I never turned my back on him. And I can't imagine the pain if I had.

Gabriella Miyares  (30:00)  
So after your son's death, you obviously learned an incredible amount. You talk a lot about that in the epilogue of your book. And you also talked about the importance of, you know, seeking knowledge and advocating for change, and champion harm reduction a lot also. So what would you tell the other, you know, parents, siblings, partners, friends, of you know, of those who do struggle with chaotic substance use? What advice would you have for them?

Jessie Dunleavy  (30:30)  
First of all, I think I help people to understand that abstinence isn't the be all and end all. That is not the only goal and anything short of that is failure. I think that's where we go wrong in a lot of ways. And, and I I did learn some of what I have come to know, a couple of years before Paul died. It was actually when he, it was in 2015. He'd gone to Florida for a treatment facility where he got Suboxone. But I, that's when I read Unbroken Brain by Maia Szalavitz, and that was a real beginning of my education. To tell you the truth, I had to read it again, because while it was an eye opener, and it reinforced a lot of things that I knew in my subconscious about Paul -- that his life experiences had led him down the path of self medication, and that he needed support more than judgment, and I, that was my instinct anyway -- but over time, I learned so much more. So that was the beginning. And you're right, though after Paul's death. When I realized, and it was through research and studying and looking at everything I could get my hands on, I realized that his death was preventable. And when that crystallizes, all it did is inspire me to spare somebody else. And so that is really what has driven me. And you're right. I've, I've come to understand that relapse is not a failure, that it's almost to be expected, that you have to continue to work with people and support them, that, that methadone and buprenorphine are lifesavers. And that long term use of those medications has the best outcome. I learned about the restrictions on them and how senseless they are, and yes, harm reduction, the full range of services and the philosophy of harm reduction. I was just so inspired by the philosophy that it is easy for me to talk about it and to be convincing, really, in helping others to see. But I learned from people like Maia Szalavitz, who I met at one point in time, but Sarah Wakeman, who's answered my questions, she helped me when I was on local committees, transition committees and such. Just people that are so dedicated to this whole movement of taking care of people with a substance use disorder instead of judging them and that they've taken the time to answer my questions and help me, this just further pulls me in, to to be helping in any way I can. I'll never catch people like Maia Szalavitz, who's been at this for 30 years. But boy oh boy, I think in my own community, I can make a difference. And, you know, my hope is, too, that the book makes a difference. I didn't want it ever to be like a "poor us" saga, but I figured if people can learn about an individual and an individual that they're endeared by, and then learn how he falls on hard times, and that his hard times weren't the result of his character flaws or his moral failure, but by circumstances that were beyond his control, that that can apply to others. And so far, and you know, I'm just barely scratching the surface. My um, the feedback I've gotten on that has actually exceeded anything I ever thought. People who said things like this book will change you. And then a woman who wrote something on Amazon said, I've never read a book that totally changed the way I feel about an issue. This book has done that. And in another case, I know of a parent who called a fellow parent who has a child With a substance use disorder and said, I'm sorry for all the advice I ever gave you, because it was wrong. And I realize that now after reading about Paul. So I, certainly the book isn't my only entry into making a difference. And I am a member of local committees and some in Baltimore, then the Maryland Harm Reduction Action Network. And so I have opportunities to work with people and you know, I've lobbied in the Maryland general legislature and what I've realized there is, you really can convince people of the common sense behind the policies that we would like to see embraced. Legislators who don't even want to talk to you when you come in the door and who before, and before this experience I felt 15 minutes isn't long enough, but you know what? It is. I am not saying these legislators will then vote for opening a safe consumption site. But I can see them shift, I can see the body language, they begin to understand that you're not crazy, that you're not just trying to enable drug use, that this is the right and sensible thing to do. They're not going to vote for it because their constituents don't understand it, and would use it against them. So they follow the electorate, telling me then too that our job is to educate the masses. And, and, and it's, and it's doable, but it's usually in conversation more than in op-eds and, and research. But, but it's, you know, if more of us can just find groups that we can talk with and try to slowly make a difference. Maybe we'll make progress.

Gabriella Miyares  (36:56)  
Absolutely. And so I think we're kind of wrapping up here. For my final question for you, you mentioned in the book that you're an optimist, and I think it's very clear, you know, the story that you tell of your own journey is one of resilience through so much challenge over the years. So do you have hope for the future of this crisis, you know, of this overdose crisis and for the future of the movement?

Jessie Dunleavy  (37:25)  
Well, I've seen some change. I've seen some people shift. But, you know, I remember reading an article in Filter magazine, that Helen Redmond wrote this. She said, reform moves at a glacial pace. And I thought, Yeah, that's a good way to put it. So I don't know if we'll see all the breakthroughs in my lifetime. But I have to have some optimism that we'll make a difference, or I wouldn't fight so hard. So I guess I, I, I'll maintain that optimism and hope that we can appeal to people's common sense and their hearts. And help them to see that, you know, when you just tell somebody, the United States has the highest overdose deaths in the world per capita, by far in the country in the world, not just comparing us to other modern countries or wealthy countries, in the world. And then in comparing us to other modern countries, we have the least harm reduction services. And we have by far the highest prison population. Those numbers alone tell you that something's wrong. And so you know, my bottom line is, and I don't mean to sound disrespectful, but get the cops out of health care, and we will pave the way for, for making some of these common sense changes and offering the services that people need and, and foregoing our fixation on abstinence. We think it's a big part of the problem. But, you know, obviously, stigma is what prevents the movement that we need to make, and that's where, again, we have to go person by person, group by group, and help people to see the light.

Gabriella Miyares  (39:28)  
Well, thank you so much. I, you know, I want to thank you for, for fighting that fight. Of course, it's not always easy. And as you said, the, the pace can sometimes seem glacial, but you know, as we do see movement, it can really be inspiring. And, you know, with the publication of your book, as you mentioned, the response has already been more than you expected, and you never know how lives are changed. 

Jessie Dunleavy  (39:54)  
I think my ability to make a difference is still ahead of me. But you're right that there's, there's inspiration from the little bit of change that you see and also from the people that you've become associated with. And I love the Drug Policy Alliance. I just go on your website all the time. And you know, just the fact that groups like that are working so hard and making such a difference. I'm just proud of my association and proud to be a part of the same effort.

Gabriella Miyares  (40:31)  
Well, thank you so much, Jessie. And, you know, it definitely goes both ways. So I wanted to thank you again for sharing your story and the story of Paul.

Jessie Dunleavy  (40:40)  
Thank you Gabriella. My pleasure.

Gabriella Miyares  (40:49)  
Thanks again to Jessie Dunleavy for joining us. To learn more about Jessie's work and to check out her book, Cover My Dreams in Ink, go to her website, jessiedunleavy.com. If you're curious about the work being done in Annapolis and the surrounding areas by the Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition and the Maryland Harm Reduction Action Network, go to the website baltimoreharmreduction.org. Finally, we here at the Drug Policy Alliance are working hard to reduce needless overdose deaths. To learn more about what we do, visit drugpolicy.org/overdose. Until next time, stay safe and stay well.

Outro  (41:32)  
Drugs and Stuff is brought to you by the Drug Policy Alliance. If you like what you hear in the podcast, do us a favor and rate the show on iTunes. Give it five stars and a nice review. Also, we'd love to hear from you. Tweet at us @drugsnstuffDPA, use the hashtag #drugsandstuff, and check out our website drugpolicy.org to see the other work we do, sign up for our emails, and donate. Special thanks to our producer Katharine Heller, and to the hard working staff at the Drug Policy Alliance for all of their work. Thanks for listening.

Drug Overdose
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