Community Connection and Harm Reduction Keep People Safe

August 9, 2018. Article by: Government of B.C.

Western approaches to substance use don’t always work for Indigenous people and communities. Indigenous harm reduction is built on the foundation that reducing harm is not a new approach. Many Indigenous communities have already been practicing harm reduction in one form or another for a long time.

Some people, however, worry that a harm reduction approach may actually be harmful. As Milly Price from the Kwakiutl District Council knows, harm reduction is about connection and saving lives.

Milly recently took part in a “Not Just Naloxone: Talking about Substance Use in Indigenous Communities" workshop. Hosted by the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA)’s Indigenous Wellness Team, this training program is a response to the increase in overdoses in First Nations communities and across British Columbia. Milly said:

The Indigenous Harm Reduction training is so awesome going back to community, because it’s our approach as opposed to the Western approach. It’s really important that we continue to do this work.

While naloxone is crucial to helping save lives, the workshop addresses a greater need to uncover and face the roots of addiction and acknowledges the power of community connection. The workshop empowers people living in First Nations communities to design their own response to the overdose crisis—all while celebrating community and individual resilience. Andrea Medley, a FNHA Indigenous Wellness Educator who facilitates the workshop, said:

Reducing harm during the overdose emergency can only happen when there are options for understanding why people use substances, by providing education and reducing stigma, and by having space for people to talk about substance use, addiction and harm reduction.

In addition to the Indigenous Wellness team’s regular work, the team provided training to 63 First Nations communities and 12 organizations across the province in the Not Just Naloxone program between June 2017 and June 2018. People who finish the workshop are given overdose prevention skills and can then go back to their communities to share their knowledge with others. It is one example of how connecting people to their community and each other can help prevent overdose deaths. Learn more.

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