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Community-led support key part of harm reduction initiatives

‘Detox is dangerous,’ says health expert
Addiction is a multi-headed snake and, consequently, a multi-faceted approach is the only way an individual can receive the help they need. (Metro Creative photo)

By Nicole Crescenzi/Contributor

Addiction is a multi-headed snake and, consequently, a multi-faceted approach is the only way an individual can receive the help they need.

For Kenna Murray, systems navigator at AVI Health and Community Services, this became clear to her when she realized the efficacy of traditional detox systems.

“Less than five per cent of people who come out of treatment stay sober,” she said. “That to me speaks to aftercare … you’re not going to cure someone’s lifelong trauma in 60 days.”

A huge problem with the current health-care system is individuals who do go through detox will then need to wait approximately 10 days before going into a longer treatment program.

“Detox is dangerous,” Murray said. “There’s time before more treatment, their tolerance is down and they start thinking about things that they were trying to avoid.”

This can make people who are relapsing more susceptible to overdosing.

Individuals who do go through longer addiction programs are also released without a guarantee for second-stage housing. The limited available housing can pose a risk as a trigger, since most second-stage housing – a majority of which are in Vancouver – are unsupervised “wet” houses, meaning drugs and alcohol are not banned.

This is where grassroots support is imperative – where people with lived experiences with homelessness and addictions can help others on their journeys by providing support and connections to resources.

“It’s about having the right people in the right positions,” Murray said. “It’s giving value to that experience instead of just to education … it’s giving value to the love in that community.”

Island Health also recognized this value, and in 2022 launched its Harm Reduction-Substance Use Policy, which relies on people with lived experience to help with its design and operation.

“A harm reduction approach is meeting people where they are and building an environment of trust and respect,” Island Health said in a newsletter statement. “At the same time, we have the opportunity to plan care to reduce the adverse health and social harms of substance use.”

AVI, as well as other Victoria-based organizations such as the PEERS Victoria Resources Society and the SOLID Outreach Society, employ people with lived/living experience to help guide individuals through their addictions journeys.

Despite the toxic drug crisis being declared a public health emergency in 2016, more than 10,000 people have died as a result of illicit drug toxicity in B.C.

Black Press Media has prepared a resource guide filled with Greater Victoria-based organizations and local information on mental health illnesses and substance use disorders. Find the guide online at under e-editions.

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