I meet Eddie Einbinder, the founder of R.E.A.D (Responsible Education About Drugs), on the Southeast corner of Washington Square Park, diagonal from the “dealer territory” he prefers to avoid. It’s not that Eddie is against drug use, though. He believes most are bound to experiment, and that it’s sensible to educate people about how to do so safely rather than promote an abstinence only message that won’t resonate. Still, overaggressive salesmanship by strangers hawking narcotics cut with who-knows-what annoys him.
“Know your drug, know your dealer,” advises Eddie, tying his dark brown shoulder length strands into a ponytail to cool off.
Eddie wears shorts and a black, short-sleeved shirt, but it’s hot out and the memory of a dehydration episode during New York City’s July heat wave is still fresh on his mind. After a long day at work and a puking session courtesy of “a questionable turkey roll,” Eddie pushed himself to attend an important dinner in 100-degree weather, only to collapse on the subway steps before reaching his destination. Countless passersby (“even people in scrubs!”) refused to answer Eddie’s pleas for help. “Everyone assumed I was an addict,” Eddie explains, appreciating the irony. Luckily, Eddie managed to dial 911, and to learn the importance of internal temperature control. This is a guy committed to harm reduction—as it applies to his own life, and others’.
So before we get into details about Play Safe, the educational documentary Eddie produced and directed featuring young adults using various drugs—including alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, ketamine, crystal meth, mushrooms, cocaine, and nitrous oxide (a.k.a. whippets), to name a few—and his forthcoming project, Fuck Safe, we head to a corner deli for a bottle of Smartwater and a bagel with cream cheese. After Eddie’s slugged some water, I feel comfortable beginning.
After spending three years filming young people “at play,” what would you say is the most popular drug on college campuses these days?
Weed and coke. Maybe ecstasy.
Not prescription drugs?
Yeah, there’s a painkiller problem. And Adderall’s rampant.
What has the response been from college students who’ve seen the film so far?
We’ve held screenings at the University of Chicago, Columbia, NYU, UNC Colorado Springs, Mizzou (University of Missouri), and Tulane. Truthfully, People seem to love it across the board.
Because it’s an entertaining film, or because they appreciate the message, as far as you can tell?
It’s the education factor, definitely. They’re actually learning. But as with all things, individual perception matters. A reviewer for the Chicago Tribune was scared by the film, even though he recognized it was about harm reduction through honest education. And some people find the meth scene sexy, while others think it’s disgusting. Someone once told me they thought the girl in the nitrous oxide/whippets scene, which we’re releasing specifically in conjunction with this interview:
They had a real problem and that he wanted to help her. But another guy told me he wanted to jerk off to the same segment. So the way the film is regarded depends a lot on the individual viewer.
Do you ever feel conflicted about your moral obligations to the people you’re filming?
Definitely. I had to detach myself emotionally as best I could in order to get the project done. But of course these are real people, and I’ve developed real friendships with a lot of them.
Has anyone changed their mind, in retrospect, about participating?
No. One coke user actually told me to “grow a sack” when I suggested her appearance might haunt her if she decides to work for the CIA or something. A majority of the subjects have seen the film and believe it’s valuable.
What are the top lessons you hope audiences will internalize?
I’d say the buddy system is most significant. Having someone else around—hopefully someone more sober than you are, but even someone fucked up—is critical. You need another person to make sure you’re breathing and to prevent you from choking on your own vomit.
Hopefully whomever’s around won’t write you off as an addict and refuse to help!
I would hope so. But seriously, if I hadn’t been able to call 911 the day I was dehydrated, I could have died without assistance. Knowing what drug you’re doing is also crucial. Most heroin overdoses are a result of people not knowing what they’re injecting. And people have died from doing one line of coke.
Because it was laced with something whack, or because they had a low tolerance?
It could be either. Tolerance levels definitely vary. Knowing yourself in that way is another good tip. No matter what, a tiny amount of something is a lot less likely to kill you. Any time I do blow—even if I trust the dealer — I’ll taste a pinkie nail sized smidgen first.
Do you think people are implementing what they learn from Play Safe?
I do. I’ve gotten a ton of emails from New Yorkers who didn’t know about the Good Samaritan Law, for instance. It differs from state to state, but New York grants immunity to anyone who assists in an emergency. So you can take your friend who’s having a bad reaction to the hospital without worrying that either of you will get in trouble for being wasted.
What is your plan for the film moving forward?
The real endgame is to make it available to the wider public, with the additional agenda of securing financing or teaming up with a production company to continue the work. Select segments in addition to the nitrous chapter are available online [http://www.youtube.com/user/EddieEinbinder], but we’re deciding how and when to release the film in its entirety. In the meantime, we’ve already outlined the sequel, and we want to get started on Fuck Safe.
The sex-ed version?
What’s the most important sex related lesson you’d like to convey?
I think everyone should keep two condoms on their person at all times.
Why two? So they can double-bag it?
No! Double bagging is a bad idea. It causes friction and makes both condoms more likely to break. The point of having two condoms is that people often want to go again.
What other sex myths need to be debunked? I’ve heard that some girls think they can keep their virginity in tact if they have anal sex instead of being penetrated vaginally.
Sex is a bullshit term for exactly that reason. By sex-ed I aim to cover any sexual activity you can think of. We’re planning to address masturbation, as well as sex acts between heterosexuals, homosexuals, transsexuals (you know, tits with cock and balls), disabled people, etc. Another common sex myth is that people seem to think it’s a good idea to brush their teeth before hooking up. When we brush, though, we create a bunch of tiny nicks in the mouth that leave us vulnerable to infection.
I guess rinsing’s the way to go, then. Do you think Fuck Safe will draw more or less controversy than Play Safe?
I’d expect more backlash to Fuck Safe since it involves penetration and people will try to write it off as pornography.
I actually worked as an assistant on a legit porn shot in Brooklyn a few months back.
Make any friends?
Yup. More importantly, I learned a lot. Once the project is in full swing, we’ll pay a lot of attention to camera angles, aesthetics and background music to differentiate our film.
I’ll have to put you in touch with my cam girl friend.
In parting, Eddie notes that it was only 110 years ago that most narcotics were legal in the U.S. Within 25 years, he suspects, this will be the case again. In the meantime, Eddie plans to educate as many people as possible about how to do drugs and have sex as safely as possible—and hand out loads of free condoms, syringes and needles along his way.