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College of Science and Mathematics

Enhancing lives through learning, discovery and innovation

Website Update

An Exchange of Respect

Amelia Johnson volunteers at the SLO Bangers Syringe Exchange and Overdose Prevention Program.
Amelia Johnson volunteers at the SLO Bangers Syringe
Exchange and Overdose Prevention Program.

To say it simply, SLO Bangers is compassion in action.

I began volunteering at the syringe exchange during my sophomore year when I decided to pursue a career as a doctor. I hoped to gain experience working directly with a stigmatized population but had no idea that working with our participants would strengthen my desire to practice medicine even more. 

SLO Bangers is a safe, positive and welcoming environment for all who walk through its doors. This organization provides services to a stigmatized population that is often mistreated and disrespected. Through volunteering, I’ve learned how to show respect to each and every person and have also come to understand that trust is something you must build. This perspective will help me be a better doctor.

There is an existing stigma in medicine against people who use drugs, the unsheltered, the previously incarcerated and many other marginalized communities. Validating all patients’ experiences and providing care equally is really important. To do this, I’m continuously learning how to examine, discuss and confront my own unconscious biases and misperceptions through meaningful interactions with other students, volunteers and participants. 

I now aspire to be a doctor who practices harm reduction, expanding on the skills I’ve acquired at the syringe exchange. 

While volunteering at SLO Bangers I was able to provide life-saving tools to people in need for the first time, and I am hooked. Currently, many drugs are contaminated with fentanyl, a strong synthetic opioid, that often causes overdoses. SLO Bangers distributes naloxone, an opioid overdose reversal drug, and trains people on how to use it throughout the local community, including in the county jail where inmates have a high risk of experiencing or witnessing an overdose. To date, our participants have saved many important lives in our community. 

Professor Candace Winstead and biology and
psychology alumnus Tophie Boreham ('16), a
volunteer, discuss services at the syringe exchange.

The volunteers and participants have taught me that we can make a greater impact working together. The volunteers at the syringe exchange bring together a variety of strengths, skills and experiences to support the same cause. Our individual connections allow us to build community partnerships, opening new opportunities to reach more people. In addition, as we volunteers talk about our personal experiences with family, friends, coworkers and peers, we share why these services are valuable, hopefully gaining new support. 

In March, our research team will present our analysis of the program at the Society of Applied Anthropology Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I'm excited to speak to and share our data with people from a variety of disciplines. I know I will learn so much from others and will really enjoy communicating our mission to a wider audience.


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