How to Do Drugs and Not Die: An Interview with Eddie Einbinder
A twenty-something drug taker and social observer peddles his prescription: imbibe if you want but just try to keep it safe.
After listening to tall, dark and floppy-haired Eddie Einbinder explain his theory about safe and educated drug usage for half an hour, I finally came up with an appropriate analogy.
I cut him off. “So you’re like the condom in the safe sex message,” I said.
“Yes exactly!” the 28-year-old native New Yorker responded. “I’ve never thought of that before but yes. People are going to do it anyway so my message is about doing it safely.”
Einbinder is the author of the book How To Have Fun And Not Die—a 165-page examination of “safe” recreational drug use, culled together through interviews with doctors and heroin addicts, as well as his own personal experiences and those of his friends. It was released in 2008, has sold 6,000 copies, and took the grand prize at the 2008 New York Book Festival. But Einbinder’s main occupation isn’t as a writer—nor is he a biochemist or physician. He came up with his rules through what social scientists would call “participant observation”: he has done a lot of drugs, watched a lot of people do a lot of drugs, and created a bit of an ethnography about people who like to do drugs. The bulk of his time is spent on the lecture circuit talking about this by giving one-hour speeches for between anywhere from $300 to $1,500, usually at after-school organizations and events.
"People are going to do it anyway so my message is about doing it safely.”
Next on the agenda: a documentary film based on his book. Though he’s funding the project with the hard-earned dollars he’s made on the lecture circuit, most of the production equipment and production staff is being donated by people he has met during his tenure as a “harm reduction” specialist. The 90-minute film—which documents drug use as well as the resulting sexual activity—will debut this winter at the International Drug Policy Reform Conference in Los Angeles and at the Maysles Cinema in New York.
His main tenets sound like a diet book: practice portion control, avoid distracted use, and never mix your vices. “But ideally,” he said, “don’t do drugs.”
I don’t get the sense that he really means that last part. Einbinder doesn’t come off like a party animal but you can tell that his “field research” has been thorough. “I started out just writing about how my friends and I could not die,” he says.
A strange thing to set out to chronicle, to be sure, but he is a man with confidence. That confidence must have one day told him, “Hey, I can handle recreational drug use. I can teach other people to do that too.” And that is exactly what he has spent the last two years doing. “When I started, I didn’t realize that I was writing about something called ‘harm reduction,’” he admitted.
The harm reduction community, a group of policy advocates who try to reduce the dangers associated with drugs and other high-risk behaviors, quickly embraced Einbinder and he has worked with organizations such as the Drug Policy Alliance and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). But despite their open arms, he’s been reluctant to embrace them back.
“People think that because I do this, I am essentially a lobbyist,” he said. “I’m not really interested in going that route. Through making education about drugs more mainstream, we will get the policies to change eventually. But making a career out of lobbying like this? Well, that gets harder and harder.”
When I met with Einbinder, he discussed the next day’s filming schedule for the movie. He was going to film a friend of his doing cocaine for the first time. “People who try coke for the first time do way more than just a small bump to start with,” he explained. “With a little education, you would know to just start with the smallest bump possible.”
He seemed excited about this in a voyeuristic sense. I didn’t get the sense that he was passionate about saving this person’s life or improving her quality of life in any way. He just kind of wanted to see what would happen. When I asked him what kind of emotion he was trying to evoke with the movie, he shrugged. “I’m not really going for any emotion,” he said flippantly. “I just want people to watch and see how this all happens.”