Youth and International Overdose Awareness Day

Youth and International Overdose Awareness Day

Thousands of Canadians needlessly die of drug overdose every year, and every year, the number grows. From 2000 to 2010, prescription opioid usage in Canada grew more than 200%. In 2002, the Health Officers’ Council of BC reported that there were 958 overdose deaths in Canada. In 2016, an estimated 2,458 Canadians died of opioid overdoses. This year, British Columbia alone is likely to have more than 1,400 overdose deaths, while in Ontario, two people die of opioid overdoses every day. Canadians are the second largest consumer of prescription opioids, second only to our neighbours, the United States. And without awareness and appropriate harm reduction, the overdose crisis will be magnified year after year.

Raising Awareness and Remembering

International Overdose Awareness Day was born on August 31st, 2001 – a day dedicated to commemorating friends, family and partners that have been lost to overdose. By honouring those lost to drug-related deaths, we share our stories and can create a community of support that will help improve the lives of people who use drugs. Anybody can help raise awareness by participating in any of the 48 International Overdose Awareness Day events across Canada. Some of our board members will be attending events in British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario (find them on our facebook page).

Today, we should also reflect why students and youth should care about sensible drug policy, and how we can make a difference in our communities.

Barriers to Harm Reduction for Young People

Last year in BC, 1 in 5 people who were lost to overdose were under the age of 30. Youth encounter many opportunities to engage in substance use. Fentanyl has been found in certain non-opioid drugs that are often used in social settings (e.g. cocaine), which presents a risk to young people who may use these drugs without knowledge of their composition and without having built up a tolerance to opioids.

While important life-saving interventions like naloxone have been made more widely available in recent years, youth may experience barriers to accessing these services. They may not know about naloxone or where to get it, or they may not want to access it for fear of being stigmatized for their drug use. This has been reported at some campuses, where, in order to get a naloxone kit and training, a student needs to identify as an illicit drug user. Understandably, students might fear academic or other repercussions if they admit to campus administration that they use drugs.

Truly Protecting the Youth  

CSSDP has been working with our chapters on naloxone training for students and youth in different cities across Canada. UBC Okanagan chapter held weekly drop-in sessions on campus during the Spring; CSSDP Vancouver recently held a similar session for students in the city.

We are encouraging our chapters to work with their campus administration to ensure that Good Samaritan policies are enacted on campus. (Note: Canada has Good Samaritan policies around calling 9-1-1 for overdoses, but each campus might approach the issue differently with respect to academic consequences.)

We are currently working on a project to map harm reduction service locations in different cities across the country. For now, you can find a list of where you can obtain naloxone for free in Ontario, participate in British Columbia’s Toward the Heart take home naloxone program, at certain locations in Quebec, as well as several other provinces and territories. Another related awareness map is Celebrating Lost Loved Ones, an online memorial of more than 1000 stories of loved ones lost to the ongoing opioid epidemic.

Public Health and Human Rights First

Many people use drugs for many different reasons. Criminalizing people for their drug use only serves to further stigmatize and marginalize people, which can lead to additional social harms, especially for those already self-medicating or suffering from physical or mental health issues. We can no longer ignore that our current approach to drugs (i.e. drug prohibition) has failed to achieve its goal of preventing drug use. Right now, we are dealing with an opioid crisis that has been made far worse by a contaminated drug supply.

As long as we continue with drug prohibition, we will continue to see a toxic drug supply. While we are happy that the government has begun taking steps away from drug prohibition by developing framework for regulating cannabis, we think it’s time to consider alternative approaches to prohibition for all illicit drugs.

As we stand with thousands upon thousands of people worldwide that are affected by countless preventable overdose deaths each year, we are reminded why we advocate every day for evidence-based drug policies that improve the lives of people who use drugs in Canada.

We encourage you to attend an overdose awareness day event near you! Join us in our efforts to raise awareness, promote harm reduction and change ineffective Canadian laws with a more sensible, evidence-based approach to drug policy by attending a local chapter meeting or starting a CSSDP chapter on your campus!

Stephanie Lake

Stephanie Lake


Stephanie is a doctoral student in population and public health at the University of British Columbia, where she is currently undertaking research to better understand the links between cannabis, opioids, and drug-related morbidity.

With or without the blessing

With or without the blessing

Harm reduction workers celebrating their temporary agreement with local law enforcement for the opening of the pop-up safe injection site at Moss Park in Toronto. (John Lesavage/CBC)

Toronto opened the 1st pop-up safe injection site.

The city of Toronto has not ‘blessed’ the project. However, activists for the site are excited about it, and “hope authorities won’t shut them down” (Nasser, 2017).

For one of the underserved sectors of the Toronto community, the Toronto Harm Reduction Alliance will open on Saturday. Harm reduction workers and activists, and advocates, have been making calls for something like this for some time (Rieti, 2017).

Three people have died, recently, due to overdoses (Glover, 2017). This is seen as a wakeup call by many (The Canadian Press, 2017). With these deaths, and with the ongoing protestations of harm reduction activists, they are taking these issues on for the community on their own. These are unregulated pop-up safe injection sites. The exact site, was not given by harm reduction worker matt Johnson in conversation with CBC News, to protect users and organizers (Nasser, 2017).

Johnson said, “We just can’t wait any longer.… With this many deaths we just can’t afford to.” The advocates for harm reduction consider the harm reduction sites sanctioned, or ‘blessed,’ by the city of Toronto. Advocates for harm reduction have been making calls for the declaration of a public health emergency alongside immediate funding for the 24-hour care for substance users.

Many have praised the city sites. However, these are considered insufficient by the harm reduction advocates. “They were opened to deal with the overdose problem that we had — not the increase that we’re dealing with. So they can’t handle the overflow that we’re seeing now,” Johnson said, citing a rash of drug overdose deaths in the past month that prompted police to issue a public alert.”

Mayor John Tory met with John and other harm reduction advocates for reassurance that the city’s staff and police will not attempt to take down the pop-up harm reduction site and would permit the harm reduction group to stay there.

The assurance was not given to the activists. Chair of the board of health, Joe Mihevc, told CBC News that the city of Toronto has been working to develop more city-sanctioned sites, but that this takes time. Harm reduction activists appear to have been opening up these in the light of the delays.



Glover, C. (2017, August 11). 3 dead in Durham region from drug overdoses, fentanyl suspected. Retrieved from

Nasser, S. (2017, August 11). Toronto’s 1st pop-up safe-injection site set to open without city’s blessing. Retrieved from

Rieti, J. (2017, August 11). Toronto harm reduction advocates pushing for pop-up safe-injection sites. Retrieved from

The Canadian Press. (2017, July 31). Spate of drug overdoses in Toronto wakeup call, experts say. Retrieved from  




Vancouver Island Opening Consumption Site

Vancouver Island Opening Consumption Site

It has been reported by CTV Vancouver Island that there is an exemption granted to the Vancouver Island Health Authority for the operation of Victoria’s first supervised consumption site.

An injection kit is shown at Insite, a safe injection facility in Vancouver. (Jonathan Hayward/THE CANADIAN PRESS)


The site will open on 941 Pandora Ave. It has been named the Pandora Community Health and Wellness Centre. The centre will offer integrated health services in addition to addiction treatment programs, a nursing clinic, and mental health counselling.

The projected time for its opening is between the spring or summer of 2018. As the Pandora Community Health and Wellness Centre becomes functional and goes online, the site will provide the services for harm reduction and counselling.

Island Health says the site will need to undergo extensive renovations before it opens sometime in the spring or summer of 2018. In 2016, in British Columbia, 967 citizens died from a drug overdose. Some may see this as a siren call for action through harm reduction.

The site may be one of the steps in the Vancouver Island area to begin working on these issues around overdoses. 156 of the 967 deaths were on Vancouver Island.

The Vancouver Island Health Chief Medical Health Officer, Dr. Richard Stanwick, said, “The introduction of supervised consumption services is an important step in saving lives and harm reduction.”

Stanwick emphasized the opioid crisis and its “tremendous toll on the Island,” and so the need to provide more for hr needs of the communities regarding the problem of overdoses.

He mentioned supports and resources regarding this. “The opioid crisis has taken a tremendous toll on the Island and as health care providers, we must offer greater supports and resources to people in the communities we serve.”

2017 has not been much of a brighter series of months because the statistics between January and May, alone, have shown that 96 people have died from a drug overdose on Vancouver Island, which, as everyone familiar with the spectre of death and tragedy of permanent loss, affects the families and communities for years afterwards, typically.

The PHS Community Services Society and the Island Health made the join application for the operation of the supervised consumption site at 844 Johnston Street. Health Canada is reviewing the joint application now. “In total, there are eight overdose prevention sites on Vancouver Island,” CTV Vancouver Island said.


Scott Jacobsen

Scott Jacobsen


Scott Douglas Jacobsen researches and presents independent panels, papers, and posters, and with varied research labs and groups, and part-time in landscaping (lifting, mowing, and raking) and gardening (digging, planting, and weeding). He founded In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He is a Tobis Fellow (2016) at the University of California, Irvine’s (UCI) Interdisciplinary Center for the Scientific Study of Ethics and Morality (Ethics Center). He researches in the Learning Analytics Research Group, works as the Gordon Neighbourhood House Community Journalist/Blogger, researches and writes for the Marijuana Party of Canada, and is a contributor for The Voice Magazine. UCI Ethics Center awarded him with the distinction of Francisco Ayala Scholar (2014) for mentoring, presenting, researching, and writing. If you want to contact Scott, you may inquire or comment through e-mail: