Leigh Townend Ayton

Today is the first ever International Harm Reduction Day, and in celebration I’m taking to the blog to talk about what harm reduction means to me. In my previous work as a harm reduction program manager, I often fielded (well-intentioned) questions about whether or not I found the work scary. I took the time to sit with people, hear their concerns, show them what an injection kit (for intravenous drug use) or pipe kit (for inhalation drug use) looks like, and have a conversation. But one of the most helpful ways I found to address the stigma and fear around harm reduction, be it at a dinner party, on a hike, or in a formal training scenario, was to remind people that they were already harm reduction practitioners.

You, yes you, are already practising harm reduction.

We all practise harm reduction in our daily lives. Harm reduction is so much more than needles and pipes, and while most of my work focuses on harm reduction in substance use, it’s certainly not limited to that. As practitioners we are building communities, challenging colonialism, looking out for others, and caring for ourselves. We are checking in, asking questions, and listening. We are bringing a pitcher of water to our friends on the dance floor and helping them arrange safe ways home. We are educating ourselves, using inclusive language, acknowledging risks, and doing our best to make things safer. I asked a few members of our CSSDP community to share how they practice harm reduction:

“I check out pharmaceutical drugs that I don’t recognize on a pill identification website before taking them.”

“I try to up my produce or liquids uptake on days when I eat lots of junk food to counterbalance”


Harm Reduction Beer

“I practice harm reduction with straws for safer snorting, condoms for safer sex, earbuds to reduce the risk of hearing loss, and a helmet when biking.”

“When my friends and I consume opioids, we keep an eye on each other and have a vial of naloxone handy.” (A list of where to get naloxone in BC is available here)

“I try to include self-care/organization hours in my schedule so I may continue to live a busy and enjoyable life without feeling too stressed.”

“I pack extra clothing when I suspect it may be cold in the evening but want to party in light clothing, like tights.”

Harm Reduction Resilience

“I have a Marquis reagent lying around so that my friends can make sure that the capsules they bought contain MDMA and not a substitute.”

In honour of International Harm Reduction Day, tell us how you practice harm reduction! Send us a note or a photo with your own tip.

Looking for some harm reduction resources? Here are a few of my favourites:

DanceSafe’s mobile app
Drug Info from the Trip! Project in Toronto

Video: The Insite Story

Report: Nothing About Us Without Us: Greater, Meaningful Involvement of People Who Use Drugs by the Canadian HIV Legal Network