93-Year-Old Volunteers For Harm Reduction

elderly woman's hands

Betty Dieckmann, a 93-year-old woman in North Carolina, spends her days donating her time to harm reduction. Named as “Person of the Week” by a local news station, she spends much of her time at the Western North Carolina AIDS Project office in Franklin.

Volunteering to Boost Harm Reduction

When “Ms. Betty” arrives for her volunteer shifts, she sits down and spends hours stuffing pouches with cotton balls that act as filters for people who inject drugs. Harm-reduction supplies such as clean needles, cotton balls, and alcohol have become an essential part of addressing the opioid epidemic.

The harm reduction kits are available even amid a pandemic. Besides providing clean needles, users are also given a dose of naloxone, an opioid overdose reversal drug.  The kits also aim to help lower the risks of HIV or hepatitis C, ultimately leading to disability and death for some people.

Harm reduction kits and needle exchange programs continue to be in high demand during the pandemic, especially as overdoses and drug use seem to rise.

Ms. Betty’s Personal Experience

Ms. Betty worked for many years in public health but lived with a secret at home that no one quite understood at the time. She was married to a man with an addiction to alcohol and later used IV drugs.

She says she didn’t have compassion for him at the time. But with the benefit of life experience, she now has kindness and a greater understanding of addiction. Giving back to the community to help people struggling with addiction seemed natural.

Back when she was younger and married to an addicted person, everyone was “very judgemental.” The common belief was that people decided to be addicted to alcohol or drugs and that addiction was a character failing.

Since those days, the world has changed, and modern medicine has been more able to discover the science behind addiction. Even the FDA views addiction as a disorder of the brain that changes a person’s behavior.

Today, she is working to fight an addiction epidemic that continues to spread alongside the isolation and economic woes of COVID-19.