New UVic harm reduction club hopes to raise awareness and reduce stigma surrounding the overdose crisis

Lifestyle Sports | Lifestyle

Founders hope to enlist volunteers and hold workshops in the fall

Naloxone graphic
Graphic by Sie Douglas-Fish.

Starting this summer, UVic will be home to a new harm reduction club. According to its founders Sydney Elarid and Erin Franz, the club aims to bring awareness to the overdose crisis and reduce stigma around drug use.

“There’s a lot of myths around harm reduction and a lot of misconceptions,” Franz told the Martlet. “All the stigma is only further contributing to the harm and it motivated me to want to debunk some of that and actually create some awareness so that people can be a bit more educated.”

As fifth year Psychology students, Elarid and Franz say the idea to start the club came from learning about the principles of harm reduction in their classes as well as online during their spare time. It very quickly became a passion project. Elarid, who is also studying biology, says that her interest also came from personally knowing people who struggle with substance use.

“Almost everybody is being affected in some sort of way by the crises that are happening in Victoria, B.C., or the rest of the world,” she said. 

Since it was declared a public health emergency in B.C. in 2016, the overdose crisis has claimed more than 7000 lives, with around 500 of those being lost in 2021 alone. Harm reduction has been instrumental in the fight against the overdose crisis. 

At its core, harm reduction is a support model that places emphasis on safer use for people who use drugs. One important goal of harm reduction is to provide support where people are at instead of making them travel to a specific site for services. Additionally, it provides people with supports such as safe supply, counselling services, and naloxone kits to help in the event of an overdose.

The UVSS has made efforts in recent years to spread awareness around harm reduction techniques through the Safer Use Campaign which includes naloxone training sessions. They have also established a Harm Reduction Centre in the basement of the SUB.

Elarid and Franz want to further the work already done by the UVSS and reach an even wider segment of the student body through volunteer opportunities and regular workshops. 

So far the pair have been focusing on building up an Instagram presence and preparing events for the fall. They have also contacted various outreach organizations to further their own knowledge and to build connections within the community.

Although Elarid and Franz are encouraged by the province’s recent steps towards decriminalizing personal drug possession, they still believe that the ongoing criminalization of drug use and the stigma towards harm reduction practices are posing major barriers to ending the overdose crisis. 

Franz says that she would also specifically like to see the implementation of safe supply. Safe supply refers to the practice of providing access to legal and regulated substances in order to reduce the potential harm associated with the illicit drug market. Most recently much of this harm has arisen due to the increased presence of fentanyl in illicit substances. 

“I definitely don’t think enough is being done,” said Franz. “[It’s been] five years since it was declared an emergency–a public health emergency.”

The club’s Instagram features resources for those looking to learn more about the overdose crisis. Franz says that people should stay tuned for more uploads and information in the coming months.

“To be honest, we’re still very much in the works,” she said. “Stay tuned for more information.”