Harm reduction remains divided on campus

Campus News

Following a string of overdoses late last year, the City of Victoria is looking to reduce deaths from drug overdose by implementing a safe injection site sometime before 2017. But what harm reduction strategies are currently in place at UVic?

According to Director of UVic Health Services Judith Burgess, UVic Administration does not have a policy regarding student substance use. However, there are sectors of the university working toward harm reduction through scientific research and hands-on solutions.

The Centre for Addictions Research of B.C. (CARBC) is a facility on campus focused on large government projects and long-term solutions for substance abuse. For example, Bernadette Pauly is an Associate Nursing Professor and scientist at CARBC interested in illicit substances. She recently promoted  over-the-counter access to Naloxone, a drug used in the treatment of opiate-related overdoses.

In 2013, the National College Health Assessment survey was administered by the Canadian Association of College and University Student Services to monitor consumption levels of post-secondary students. Burgess said that the reported substance use of UVic students ranked consistently higher than the Canadian cohort, which illuminated the need for Changing the Culture of Substance Use in Residence (CCSUR).

In response to the survey results, CARBC teamed up with a province-wide initiative called Healthy Minds | Healthy Campuses to mobilize research and data toward immediate harm reduction solutions on campus. The result is CCSUR, developed to create a moderation policy for alcohol and drugs while promising empathy and openness for students who identify as addicts or problem users. CCSUR promotes a healthy lifestyle through data collection, programs, and events.

Another National College Health Assessment was recently delivered to around 6 000 students in order to discover whether UVic’s latest harm-reduction efforts have been effective.

In speaking with representatives, aside working with universities to address their alcohol policies through programs, practice, and procedure, the concrete nature of CARBC’s hands-on action appears slightly unclear. For example, Vancouver representative Catriona Remocker explained that some ground-level action “may ultimately involve poster campaigns”, which somewhat contradicts another statement to the Martlet: “The reason we don’t go handing out flyers to students and handing out needles is because we know we work in a world where we have limited resources.”

Meanwhile, UVic Pride, a primarily volunteer-run UVSS advocacy group, receives no dedicated funding from the university while working on its own solutions. Touring the Pride Collective space in the SUB with Resource Coordinator Kat Palmateer revealed a neatly organized closet of clean needles, anti-bacterial wipes, distilled water, and clean straws — tools for safer smoking and injecting.

“We have a lot of people from the community who access this . . . although a lot of [them are] students,” said Palmateer.

Palmateer is concerned about the UVic administration’s lack of involvement with immediate harm-reduction groups like Pride. “Every [harm reduction effort] gets written off as [if] UVic did it, so UVic gets funding and grants and then we don’t see any of it.”

In addressing research groups, collectives, and safer-use suppliers who ultimately work toward the same goal, these parties show a clear separation. Perhaps connecting these initiatives would result in a more effective harm-reduction system at UVic.