Harm Reduction Sisters: A Northland woman’s journey from drug use to being a lifeline

Published: Jul. 27, 2023 at 10:16 PM CDT
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DULUTH, MN. (Northern News Now) - Back in May, Minnesota became the first state in the country to legalize all drug paraphernalia.

The subject has been getting national attention, in part because it sounds counter to what the country’s laws have been.

Laws will now be headed in an opposite direction, thanks to someone from the Northland who battled addiction and is making her voice heard.

The first half of Sue Purchase’s life was a rough one growing up in a house of violence.

“I was 12 when I started doing drugs, and I grew up in a hellhole in Cloquet, of course, I did drugs,” says Purchase. “The gateway drug is trauma.”

Trauma is a large reason as to why she started using mind-altering substances, including injection drugs.

“You don’t just wake up suddenly and decide you want to shoot dope,” explains Purchase.

It wasn’t until later in her life Purchase decided to get sober and use those years of pain for good.

“I was motivated to do something different,” says Purchase.

Sue Purchase at Harm Reduction Sisters
Sue Purchase at Harm Reduction Sisters(Northern News Now)

Using her knowledge of drugs and their impacts, in 1996, Purchase created the first harm reduction program in Minneapolis.

These programs offer users fentanyl strips, Narcan, clean needles, and anything that makes drug use safer.

“We are just giving like a really highly stigmatized population of people, struggling every day to survive, an opportunity,” states Purchase.

However, seeing the growing threat of HIV, HEP-C, and overdoses so close to home, Purchase knew it was time to bring her services to the Northland by creating a non-profit in Duluth called Harm Reduction Sisters.

Harm Reduction Sisters
Harm Reduction Sisters(Northern News Now)

Purchase states, “It’s a mobile harm reduction program bringing necessary services to people who use drugs, and it really starts with a health care approach.”

That approach is to let people be the experts in their own lives.

For Purchase, that meant providing users access to things such as Narcan and clean syringes.

As her organization gained a following, it grew into much more.

“We are funding streams, working with the Minnesota Department of Health, the Department of Human Services, and various foundations,” explains Purchase. “Our whole program organization structure is designed around a very grassroots experience.”

This eventually headed a first-of-a-kind state legislative provision, calling for the legalization of drug paraphernalia including any residue that may be inside.

The legislation was ultimately passed and signed into law this session.

“Through the policy shifts we have an opportunity to really do real public health work,” says Purchase.

Through this, she has been able to expand the team, which includes women like Delainey Hardy, who started using at the age of 11.

“I found Sue because of people using syringes, and she was out there doing harm reduction work during COVID,” says Hardy.

Even though the program doesn’t focus on helping people find recovery, Hardy did.

Care referral flyers
Care referral flyers(Northern News Now)

“I mean a lot of the systems that are created right now, that we have, it’s a barrier for us addicts,” explains Hardy.

Hardy now working for Harm Reduction Sisters, showing up for the community, and herself.

“They’re helping me prolong my life right now,” says Hardy.

“We are not here to create a barrier to care because there are plenty of barriers to go around,” says Purchase.

Harm Reduction Sisters shows how this new way of approaching drug use in Minnesota, may be someone’s lifeline.

The law legalizing drug paraphernalia in Minnesota goes into effect on August 1.

If you or a loved one are in need of Harm Reduction Services you can call:

  • Never Use Alone Hotline: (800) 484-3731
  • Harm Reduction Sisters: (218) 206-6482
  • HIV Care Navigation: (218) 940-8261

For immediate services or emergencies call 911.

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