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hurtful words and opportunities for community education

July 14, 2020

[Image description: a poster advertising The AIDS Network’s mobile harm reduction services defaced with the words ‘say no to drugs dumb ass junkies’] 

By Allie Torrance – Regional Harm Reduction Worker

Harm Reduction work is not always easy, particularly when we see people who use drugs continue to be devalued and disregarded within our communities. Harm reduction is about social justice, it is about equity, it is about dignity, it is about choice, and it is about life. There are times within our work that we come across messages, such as this message strewn across one of our posters in a public park, and we need to speak up.

We constantly hear messages that people who use drugs are less than, are undeserving of care, of love, and of life. These messages are often rooted in a moral judgement, ignorance, and systems which aim to criminalize and dehumanize people who use drugs.

As Harm Reduction workers and advocates, we use these painful messages as opportunities for community education, for capacity building, and for growth. For people that use drugs, these messages often compound the stigma and shame that is experienced everyday, and in nearly every interaction. People that use drugs are valuable members of our communities and are deserving of your time, of your support, of your respect, and of services which improve their quality of life, without judgement.

“Say no to drugs” messaging and ideologies do NOTHING to curve the horrific rates that people are dying amidst the continuing overdose crisis, which persists. Instead, initiatives such as Drug Policy reform, access to Safe Supply Programs, and Consumption and Treatment Sites (CTS), make a difference. I urge you to consider this when you are engaging within your community, and challenge these dangerous messages though evidence, education, and through compassion.