Pride promotes drug user safety, offers education and supplies

UVic Pride Collective, a UVic Students’ Society constituency group that represents and services queer and trans students, held a harm reduction workshop in the Michèle Pujol Room on March 17. Harm reduction, according to AIDS Vancouver Island’s website, is “a set of practical strategies that reduce negative consequences of drug use, incorporating a spectrum of strategies, from safer use to managed use to abstinence.”

A representative from AIDS Vancouver Island spoke at the workshop about harm reduction resources available in Victoria.

The workshop highlighted many of the services UVic Pride will offer with a new harm reduction initiative. Brennan Welch, a Pride co-ordinator, says the collective has been doing the workshops to help change unpleasant reactions from people to harm reduction supplies.

“[People] have a lot of misconceptions and kind of emotional gut reactions to things, and so we want to be able to not just have the supplies but supply information and be able to talk to people about why we’re doing this and why it’s relevant to the UVic community,” they said.

According to the workshop, harm reduction works with each person on an individual basis, not necessarily to ask that they stop their risky behaviour, but to give them the tools to make their behaviour safer. The concept of harm reduction emerged from individuals who have used drugs and is largely based on experiential knowledge.

Drug use is looked at as a reality by AIDS Vancouver Island, not a negative or a positive. However, AIDS Vancouver Island wants those seeking its services to have a positive experience. The speaker said some people who go to their doctor to receive treatment, and have a bad experience, are hesitant to return.

UVic Pride will provide things such as clean straws, pipes, sterile water, alcohol pads, and a variety of syringes for intravenous, steroid, and testosterone injection as part of its harm reduction initiative. The collective will also offer information on harm reduction and safer use of drugs. Pride is using some of its own budget for supplies, but most are provided by AIDS Vancouver Island.

So far, Pride has had mostly positive reactions, but Cal Mitchell, a Pride co-ordinator, says, “I feel like we’re prepared for a potential negative reaction, but we do have a lot of support in the building. We have a lot of support from other people who do similar work. The people within the collective seem to support it pretty much unanimously.”

Pride hopes the collective will have its harm reduction initiative fully operating by the end of April, after its members finish consulting with AIDS Vancouver Island and getting trained.

“I feel like, personally, I’m hoping that this initiative, and getting word out about this, really starts a conversation about awareness and kind of starts a conversation about the stigma of drug use, especially amongst people of the UVic community, because there seems to be an idea that if you’re going to post-secondary education, you don’t use drugs,” says Mitchell. “[The impression is] ‘Obviously. Why would you be going to somewhere so elite and carry so much social capital if you are using drugs of any kind,’ and there’s just no conversation about it. And when there’s no conversation about it, it’s really easy to get into behaviours and habits that are not as safe as you could be while using.”

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