Canadian Harm Reduction Network Newsletter – Harm Reduction Policy for Social Workers

Canadian Harm Reduction Network LogoAccidental drug overdose is one of the major causes of death right now. Tragically, that most of these deaths could have been avoided. The Canadian Harm Reduction Network is working with a national task force on opiate overdose and a Toronto research project on cocaine overdose. The Toronto project will be finished by the end of March. The national one will take longer. It is still in the exploratory stage. We do know this: for opiate overdose prevention it is necessary to advocate for the general availability of Narcan and for the enactment of Good Samaritan laws.

Crack is still the pariah drug in this country despite the fact that it is so commonly used. To address this, CATIE recently held a meeting of experts from across Canada (we were one of the experts) to develop material that would serve to reduce the harms that crack may cause to people who use it. Real cutting edge ideas were generated. We will keep you posted about the results.

We participated in the North American harm reduction conference in Portland, Oregon. Personal highlights were our presentation on the class action law suit undertaken by the Canadian HIV AIDS Legal Network to secure the availability of new syringes in federal prisons, and participation in a very well attended Canadian gathering, sponsored by the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition This conference is one of the few places that Canadian harm reduction partisans and practitioners are able to meet and network, until we have our own harm reduction conference. The closest we have to this, by the way, is the Alberta Harm Reduction conference which will take place May 22 & 23 in Calgary. This is an excellent conference, now more than a decade old. Watch for it and plan to attend.

Sorry, I got side tracked.

In Portland, we also participated in the full-day pre-conference gathering of representatives from drug user organizations in North America. This was one of the most important events at the conference, and I was invited to co-facilitate the afternoon session. It was a rich and exciting day, focused on organizing and networking.

Organizing drug user unions and people who use drugs, both in the United States and Canada, is essential for ensuring respect and necessary change in how people who use drugs are perceived and treated. Everyone involved in challenging conventional thinking and laws about drugs and people who use them should see the documentary on ACT UP!, “United in Anger”. It is a primer on community organizing and will be an inspiration to the drug user rights movement.

The CHRN hosted a highly regarded international visitor, Elena Yankova, a nurse, who is the Executive Director of the Initiative for Health Foundation in Sophia, Bulgaria. Elena is one of Eastern Europe’s leading experts on harm reduction and was one of the earliest workers to provide outreach to injection drug users facing the threat of HIV and HCV. We organized several agency visits for Elena while she was here, where she shared her experience with workers and heard their experiences and practices as well.

Finally, we want to call your attention to the attachment in this email. It is a harm reduction policy for social workers. This was prepared as part of a class project by a team of five MSW Students at the University of Toronto to address the fact that the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers has no harm reduction policy (nor for that matter does the Canadian Association of Social Workers), despite the fact that so many social workers use this paradigm in their workplaces. This is a major professional deficit and one that CHRN will work to address. We urge you – particularly social workers – to read this document and send your comments and feedback to us at [email protected], so that we can move forward with greater strength.

Harm Reduction Policy for Social Work Practice

The report will also be found on our website