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Saving and Empowering Lives Through Harm Reduction

Harm reduction is a non-judgmental way of supporting people where they are at and seeks to reduce harm that may be caused to an individual through certain behaviours. All programs and services at Boyle Street utilize a harm reduction approach, because all people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. You can read more about why we practice harm reduction here.


One of our most prominent harm reduction practices is using and advocating for the use of naloxone (pronounced na-LOX-own). In fact, we have several upcoming naloxone trainings that you can sign-up for: 

 Our naloxone trainings are conducted by experienced medical professionals and provide hands-on practice. During these trainings you will learn how to administer naloxone, when to administer naloxone, and why we administer naloxone. 

Naloxone and Harm Reduction 

Naloxone is a fast-acting drug that temporarily reverses the effects of opioids. It is safe for all ages, does not create dependence, and you cannot use it improperly. This means that, when deciding whether you should administer naloxone, remember there are no adverse consequences if the person you’ve given it to does not have opioids in their system - better safe than sorry. 

We emphasize the importance of naloxone due to the drug poisoning crisis we’re facing here in Edmonton.

Drug poisoning is a more accurate term than drug overdose: overdose means that you (intentionally or unintentionally) took too much of a substance that you know what it is; poisoning results from a toxic supply, where you took something that is not what you thought it was.  

This can be confusing, because we often mix these terms in everyday language. Alcohol poisoning, for example, is almost always the result of drinking too much (of a substance that you know what it is) in a short period of time - an overdose of alcohol. If you took a reasonable amount of alcohol - but it contained a toxic substance - that would be more like the drug poisonings that are frequently occurring today. 

Of course, we rarely think of alcohol poisoning in that way because, in Canada, alcohol production and distribution are highly regulated, which enables people to consume the substance of their choice in a safe way. This aligns with a fundamental principle of harm reduction: substance use is inevitable in society, and abstinence-based, prohibitionist approaches do not resonate with people’s lived experiences.  

In Canada, the unregulated drug supply has become flooded with fentanyl, resulting in a toxic supply and leading to a drastic increase in drug poisonings and opioid related deaths. In the first half of 2023 in Canada, 84% of all accidental opioid related deaths involved fentanyl. Like all opioids, fentanyl binds receptors in your brain - receptors critical for breathing. Because fentanyl is an extremely powerful opioid, it can bind enough receptors that you stop breathing.  

Naloxone, promptly administered, kicks opioids off those receptors, blocking their effects. It saves lives. This is, perhaps, the starkest possible example of harm reduction, because there is no greater harm than immediate death.  

Benefits of Harm Reduction

Because a harm reduction approach is non-judgmental at its core, some people think harm reduction means ‘doing nothing.’ The opposite, in fact, is true: because we follow evidence-based medical practices, we utilize harm reduction to assist people effectively manage their substance use. Harm reduction does not encourage risky decisions; it acknowledges the very real harms associated with risky behaviours and does not try to minimize the impact of them.   

Another misconception of harm reduction is that it is ‘enabling,’ and this belief is often tied to the extremely damaging myth that people need to reach ‘rock bottom.’ Why is this myth so damaging? 

Most importantly - especially in the era of fentanyl-induced drug poisoning - rock bottom means death. Naloxone prevents this, but naloxone is not the only aspect of harm reduction that conflicts with the myth. Because harm reduction is non-judgmental, it is more accessible - it meets people where they are at. Many people do not reach out or seek help earlier because they believe they need to hit rock bottom first - they think they cannot be met where they are at.  

Additionally, there is simply no medical situation or diagnosis that favours delaying treatment or seeking help until you are in crisis. This is especially important when discussing the disease of addiction, because crisis causes trauma, and trauma is a huge driver of addiction. The ‘rock bottom’ myth is self-defeating. 

Harm Reduction Saves Lives

At Boyle Street Community Services, our approach to harm reduction, exemplified by our naloxone training program, reflects our commitment to respecting the dignity of those we serve. By providing crucial, life-saving training, we stand at the forefront of addressing the current drug poisoning crisis with practical, compassionate, effective solutions.   

Harm reduction is about proactive engagement, not passive acceptance, of substance use management. Through education, support, and advocacy, we strive to create a safer community for all. 


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