Above photo: Peer worker at harm reducation kiosk.
The technical answer is that harm reduction is both a set of service delivery practices, and a fundamental philosophical approach to providing equitable health promotion, illness and injury prevention, treatment and care across all areas of health care.
In practical terms, it is an important piece of illness prevention, treatment and care at Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH). By looking at the needs of the client, effective harm reduction can achieve positive population health outcomes and reduce stigma and discrimination. In Vancouver Community (VC), our clients include those whose use of substances and/or sexual activity makes them vulnerable to illness or other health harms.
“Those of us involved in providing harm reduction strategies and services such as needle distribution and recovery must respect human rights and dignity,” says Kimberly Murphy, Harm Reduction Coordinator for VC. “It’s about sticking to basic ethical principles and taking action that is done for the benefit of others.” And that is exactly what the harm reduction program at Robert & Lily Lee Family Community Health Centre (CHC) is all about.
The Robert & Lily Lee Family Community Health Centre (CHC) harm reduction program is a unique peer-led program that also works with the VCH volunteer program, providing a hybrid delivery model for the Grandview/Woodlands community that it serves.
“We have both a harm reduction kiosk, as well as an outreach team,” explains Murphy. “The kiosk is open Monday to Friday 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and outreach operates on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2:00 – 5:00 p.m.”
Both teams provide take-home Naloxone training and kits and meet people where they are at to improve access to training and kits within the community. Both teams also provide harm reduction supplies, needle recovery, education, and brief referrals to other organizations and services.
There is also a free peer-led drop-in group take-home Naloxone training once per month during cheque issue week, as well as drop-in group Safe Needle Recovery training for the public.
Due to the fact that this harm reduction team is a peer-led program, the peers, along with the Vancouver Community harm reduction coordinator and/or the VCH peer coordinator provide education and training workshops within VCH, as well as the greater community on topics such as harm reduction/peer programs and overdose response.
The harm reduction/peer program at Robert & Lily Lee CHC sit at the Harm Reduction Strategies and Services (HRSS) committee meeting held at the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC). This committee guides the Provincial Harm Reduction Supplies Program, making recommendations with respect to best practices and supply distribution.
“The HRSS Committee reports to the BC Communicable Disease Policy Advisory Committee and develops provincial guidelines disseminated by the BCCDC,” explains Murphy. “It is a wonderful opportunity for us to be involved at the policy-making level. This committee also facilitates community capacity building by supporting harm reduction education across the province.”