On September 30, CSSDP will be joining organizations from across Canada on Parliament Hill to rally for drug policy reform. In the past, CSSDP has independently organized an annual Lobby Day as a way to raise awareness about drug policy with federal elected officials. Today SSDP, our American partner organization, is doing their Lobby Day in Washington D.C. So it is perfect timing to rally students once again to Parliament Hill along with other allied drug policy organizations working to make change!
Join us tomorrow at 11 AM on the hill to express our disappointment in our current drug policies and push for reform! Check out the events happening over the next two days in the schedule. For more information on the rally please visit www.rufedupca.com and find out how you can get involved. We look forward to seeing you there!
After the Fed Up rally, CSSDP will be meeting with Members of Parliament at an All Party Round Table to present our latest policy brief titled, Drug checking Services Necessary to Prevent Youth Drug-Related Deaths. We hope that this brief will educate Members of Parliament about how the current policy environment has led to increased drug-related deaths at music festivals and how drug checking can serve as a tool to empower young people to prevent future overdoses. By sharing our most recent visit to ChEck-iT in Vienna, we are urging Members of Parliament to assist in scaling up this life saving public health service which has already been evaluated as a standard good practice in Europe.
Our visit to ChEck-It was so inspiring that even our drug policy hero Donald MacPherson was able to write a recent Op Ed for the National Post on why we need to follow their model of product testing. Now more than ever before, nightlife harm reduction tools such as drug checking are becoming mainstream.
The time is now to push for change!
The final day of the 2014 SSDP Conference left all the attendees filled with energy and excitement. With hundreds of students in attendance, the conference provided new knowledge, new connections, and new ideas to each one of us! I am so grateful to SSDP for inviting me to attend and have been greatly impacted by all the people I met this past weekend. One of the many assets of the conference was the SSDP alumni that now work as outreach workers in harm reduction organizations. Their frontline experience provided some fascinating insights into what it means to truly serve the communities we are supporting.
Providing the Harm Reduction Clients Need
The importance of client-oriented harm reduction services was repeatedly emphasized at the conference. The “fixing, helping, serving” model was used to frame the different ways outreach workers can engage with clients. Although slightly different, both fixing and helping are scenarios in which assistance and solutions are imposed on problems or individuals. Contrastingly, serving is an approach in which the solutions are designed collaboratively.
A serving approach recognizes that a client may not agree with the outcome an outreach worker thinks is most desirable. Irina Alexander described her epiphany moment as when she learned that many of the homeless youth she worked with did not actually want to be housed. Rather than assuming what is best for a client, outreach workers should establish a connection and identify the client’s priorities, and then suggest ways to work on the issues that are important to them. A non-judgmental perspective is imperative to the serving approach, and specifically to avoid identifying the ideal pre-determined outcomes. James Kowalsky provided a useful motto for understanding the essence of a non-judgmental attitude when he said, “we have to accept for others what we would not accept for ourselves,” a quote that he borrowed from Matthew Silver.
Taking a fixing and helping approach is inappropriate as it assumes that clients are weak and need to be saved, which anyone that has done any outreach work knows is far removed from the truth! Outreach workers need to ensure that their (most often positive) intentions do not overshadow the client’s real needs and wants. Remember to check in with yourself when doing outreach and ask, “Am I trying to save?”
Posing questions and finding out what the client really means is essential to making their needs a priority. Respecting client’s individuality is also important, which means recognizing that the same approach doesn’t work for every person or every situation and you often need to be creative with how you counsel. Additionally, it is vital to support the empowerment of clients by giving them choices. Irina Alexander abides by these principles and the serving approach in her work, and has found that this often leads to some outside the box harm reduction strategies. Some examples in her experience include helping clients survive incarceration by sending them books, checking on the wellbeing of the aggressor in domestic violence situations, and creating strategies to reduce the negative effects of being sexually active while HIV positive. Since harm reduction should reduce the harms most important to the client, it can take a different form for each one of them.
The first full day of the 2014 SSDP Conference was a blast! The only down side was having to choose between all the awesome breakout sessions. From media strategies for advocacy to cannabis legalization efforts, the panels covered numerous drug policy topics, but they all had two things in common…the speakers were great and the rooms were full! For this travel journal entry, I am going to highlight a couple of the most personally thought provoking ideas I came across today.
Decriminalization & Nightlife Harm Reduction
The necessity of nightlife harm reduction came up several times throughout the SSDP conference. Interestingly, Drug Policy Alliance’s Stefanie Jones discussed the connection between decriminalization and nightlife harm reduction, focusing specifically on her observations at an outdoor psytrance summer festival, known as Boom Festival, in Portugal, where all drugs are decriminalized for personal consumption.
Stefanie described three ways in which decriminalization changes harm reduction efforts at music festivals and in nightlife settings. First, when drugs are decriminalized, the relationship between festival organizers and harm reduction service providers becomes collaborative and mutually beneficial. In North America, harm reduction service providers, such as DanceSafe and Trip Project, often have to fight to be present at venues where drugs are likely to be used, and are commonly not permitted. In contrast, festival organizers in Portugal include harm reduction service providers as a crucial component of their events and work with them to create as safe of an environment as possible. Second, harm reduction service providers are able to disseminate very specific information on safer drug use, including information on topics such as dosage. Moreover, they are able to provide drug checking services in which people can find out the most necessary piece of specific information – exactly what is in their substance. This is unlike North America, where harm reduction service providers are often forced by festival organizers to modify the drug information they bring to the event (such as by omitting information pamphlets on certain substances, like heroin). Third, decriminalization creates a much more comfortable partying environment, as the stigma and fear that typically accompanies discussions on drug use is diminished. This creates a safer environment where people who use drugs are able to reach out for help and support if needed.
As part of the Fed Up rally in Ottawa on Tuesday, September 30, Lisa Campbell and I will be making a presentation to Members of Parliament on the need for drug checking services to protect youth from drug-related deaths and health complications. Although our presentation will discuss implementing drug checking within the current legal environment, it is interesting to consider whether decriminalization is a necessary precondition to improving the role of harm reduction services in nightlife.
Incremental Change & Modifying Your Message
One of the key takeaways from today’s panels was the importance of accounting for the type of change the political environment realistically allows and celebrating positive changes even if they are far below your ideal. “We’ll accept this for now, but we are going to keep coming back” is a good mantra for remembering to strike a balance between supporting steps forward, but remaining critical of their shortcomings. Lauren Galik from Reason Foundation stressed that it is often more useful to make recommendations that may be listened to, than to be “radical” and fall on deaf ears. For example, when advocating for the removal of mandatory minimums in Louisiana, Lauren Galik recognized that the conservative audience she was addressing might not be open to such a reform. This led her to simultaneously propose the adoption of a safety valve as an alternative, which although inferior to the removal of mandatory minimums, was a step forward from the laws as they currently stood (and one that was much more likely to be accepted). Modifying your message to your audience, without compromising your principles, is often a necessary and effective strategy in drug law reform.
I hope you gained some of your own insights from reading this post about my discoveries today, and you will come back tomorrow for some further reflections on what is being discussed at the 2014 SSDP Conference.
As some of our Twitter followers may know, the SSDP2014 Conference is taking place this weekend, and CSSDP is present and accounted for! I am thrilled to be representing our amazing organization and to be joining the SSDP network for what is sure to be a weekend filled with interesting discussions, thought provoking ideas, and new connections. For those of you that are not able to be here, follow the CSSDP blog as I report and reflect on what is taking place at the conference. I’ll also be live-tweeting the highlights, so make sure you follow CSSDP. Join me as I celebrate, learn, connect, and advocate!
CSSDP has been collaborating with SSDP over the past year to strengthen the international network, which includes chapters in places as far as Ireland and the United Kingdom. This past March when CSSDP went to Vienna to advocate at the annual UN meeting on drugs (which was known formally this year as the “High-Level Segment and 57th Session on the Commission on Narcotic Drugs), we worked together with international SSDP chapters to present at a side event on why criminalization has failed to protect youth, and in fact does more harm than good. Our attendance at this conference is just another way we are working hard to stayed connected to our roots, learn from our partners, and accomplish more together!
Check out the conference program and tweet at CSSDP if there is an event on the agenda in particular that you would like me to report from. I’ll do my best to attend! Be sure to follow my travel journal. 🙂
Chair of the Board of Directors
UPDATE: CSSDP supported and coordinated nine Fed Up rally attendees (seven of which are featured below) through the Fed Up Rally Transportation Bursaries, bringing students and youth to Ottawa from Toronto, Hamilton, and Montreal. Read more about CSSDP’s contribution to the rally!
Seven of the nine Fed Up Rally attendees that CSSDP supported in attending.
The first annual Fed Up rally will take place on September 30, 2014 from 11 AM to 1 PM on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. This event is designed to let federal politicians know that a contingent of concerned Canadians are dissatisfied with current Canadian drug policy and that reforms ought to brought about. There will be a focus on advocating for increased access to safe injection sites and opioid maintenance therapy, provision of naloxone to the public, reduced institutionalized stigma of drug users, implementation of a Good Samaritan law, and the collection of thorough epidemiological data on drug poisoning deaths. For more information, please visit the Fed Up website (www.rufedupca.com).
If you are interested in attending this rally, plan on leaving from Toronto, Montréal, or surrounding areas, and are a student or youth (under 30 years of age), CSSDP welcomes you to apply for a transportation bursary. It will cover the cost of a return seat on a bus or gas reimbursement.
Please feel free to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions and concerns, including if you are interested in coming to the rally from elsewhere in Canada.
You can find the application for the bursary here (https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/VF396GZ). All we require is a few words about why you would like to attend the rally. Give it a shot!