Harm reduction activists have our trust; without their activism, we would all be left to die

Ominously rejected by National Post Opinion, a letter from people who use supervised consumption sites in Toronto provides a direct counter to Postmedia's relentless attacks on harm reduction.

Harm reduction activists have our trust; without their activism, we would all be left to die
Graffiti in Moss Park, Toronto near a grassroots overdose prevention site launched by the community in 2017. The Moss Park site prompted approximately 18 more sites to open across Ontario within 2 years.

In response to Adam Zivo’s column in the National Post on December 18, 2023: Harm-reduction activists need to regain the public’s trust:

Harm reduction activists have our trust; without their activism, we would all be left to die.

We are a group of people who use supervised consumption services in Toronto’s downtown east end. There are approximately 2,700 visits to the 39 supervised consumption sites across Canada each day. Every person who uses these public services is also a member of the public.

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada from January to June 2023, there were 3,970 opioid related deaths, the majority have been linked to fentanyl and all of them preventable. Since 2017, supervised consumption services across Canada have reversed over 49,000 overdoses. Activists are helping to expand services, with evidence and effective responsiveness, knowing what needs to be carried out in order to save human lives.

Adam Zivo’s column mentions two polls in provinces that are politically hostile toward harm reduction. However, a 2021 study of 1,602 adults found that 56% in Saskatchewan and 64% in Alberta support Safe Supply. If these two conservative provinces are a litmus test for support, it is safe to say that the support would be greater in less conservative provinces. The majority of the public support a legal regulated supply to end the toxic drug death crisis, which has taken the lives of more people this year than any other year.

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We are still alive because of harm reduction. We live to write this response after grieving the deaths of our loved ones to overdose death. We are angry that people like Mr. Zivo think that we are not deserving of life. Mr. Zivo is not an expert in our lives despite his relentless crusade to close safer supply programs and harm reduction services. There is an enormous amount of peer-reviewed evidence, research and reporting to all levels of government for harm reduction services and programs. There is minimal evidence for the outdated, profit-driven, unregulated drug treatment system, which fails us and fails to produce positive outcomes. For those of us interested in decreasing or quitting our drug use, we are rarely granted entry due to capacity issues or the cost of treatment.

So, in the meantime, we go to consumption sites to feel supported. We get a bit of a break from harsh realities when we go to these sites. We receive low-barrier health care from regulated health care professionals at these sites. We get to feel safe and human when we visit these sites. We are treated with dignity and we are grateful for advocates and harm reduction resources available at consumption sites, which have been visited 4.3 million times since 2017. Without these sites, where would we have to go? Alleyways, stairwells, public toilets, front steps, park benches, and bus stops. Who and what would we have to turn to without harm reduction? An unregulated toxic drug supply, health services that continuously fail us, unachievable and outdated standards, high barrier and low capacity detox beds and costly treatment centres, and unaffordable housing.

Clearly, consumption sites are meeting the needs of “our” public. Consumption sites and harm reduction services need to be expanded and resourced properly.

Mr. Zivo will never understand our suffering, the suffering we have experienced because of loss, because of the constant attacks that we read in newspapers and see all the time, the hate from strangers taking pictures of us without our consent. Mr. Zivo does not even see us as members of the public! We know what we need and we know what our communities need. We need access to long-term affordable housing, we need round the clock access to supervised consumption spaces, we need a safe alternative to the unregulated drug supply, and we need low barrier access to regulated health care providers in the spaces we deem as safe and supportive. The entire health care system needs to be changed, and that system is resistant to meeting us with appropriate health care where we are at.

We are in harm reduction spaces, we are in consumption sites, we are in your parks, and we are your public. Let us remind Mr. Zivo that we are worthy of care, we are experiencing a public health emergency and have been for a decade. We will not be discarded.


Mike Slade, Brian Clark, Krissy Wright, Roderick Main, Monica (Texas) Smith

Want to join harm reduction activists in Calgary? Come to the Rally and March for Safe Supply on January 16!

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