Glamour Magazine Features LIFT CEO, Nikki Bell (09/2017)

In September 2017, Glamour Magazine ran a special report entitled “Women and Opioids: Inside the Deadliest Drug Epidemic in American History” that features LIFT’s CEO, Nicole “Nikki” Bell. In it, Nikki shares her history of trauma, addiction, prostitution, and trafficking in Chapter 8: Sex for Heroin – Once hooked, women often will do anything for a fix—and enter into a whole new nightmare of danger and trauma.


May 16, 2012, was somewhat of a typical day for one heroin user in Worcester, Massachusetts: Nicole “Nikki” Bell was arrested for prostitution, this time as part of a sting. “For seven years I was in and out of incarceration, in and out of treatment facilities, sleeping in doorways, prostituting, raped at gunpoint, jumping out of moving cars,” says Nikki, now 36. “I was arrested—God, over 20 times—and never once did anybody say, ‘Do you need help?’”

No picture of the opioid crisis is complete without stories like Nikki’s. Several of the women I spoke to for this report admitted they’d traded sex for drugs. “The percentage is very high with opioids,” says Athena Haddon, who ran a recovery center in Massachusetts for nearly a decade. How high? And what does it mean? “There are no numbers,” says Meredith Dank, Ph.D., an expert on human trafficking at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, who has been trying to get funding to study how commercial sexual exploitation impacts the opioid crisis and vice versa. “It’s frustrating. You’d think that the people shaping a nationwide strategic plan to address this epidemic would want data to ensure the money is going to the right places. Are opioids pushing people into commercial sex? Are traffickers getting them addicted?” And: What does it take to save these women? Without research, we don’t have those answers.

The most obvious way opioids become part of the sex economy is when women are so gripped by addiction they resort to using their body to get their fix. Other women turn to the drugs to dull the pain of being exploited.


“I was arrested—God, over 20 times—and never once did anybody say, ‘Do you need help?’”

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