Harm reduction approach to drug education for youth

Head & Hands is a nonprofit organization that strives to promote the physical and mental wellbeing of youth. Our approach is preventive, inclusive, non-judgmental, and holistic. We are committed to providing a supportive environment for youth experiencing marginalization(s). In this symposium, we want to touch particularly on a harm reduction approach to drug education for youth.

Most drug education is abstinence-only / abstinence focused. We approach it differently: We know that youth use drugs and that drug use is ordinary (not immoral, aberrant, or unusual). Our workshops provide information about safer substance use and encourage participants to examine the mythology and stigma associated with substance use.

Given the context of the overdose crisis, it is especially important to equip youth to make informed decisions about their substance use. We want to encourage others who work with youth to consider their approach to discussing drug education.

Presenters and slide deck

Liz Singh, Head & Hands Streetwork Coordinator

Liz Singh is a harm reduction worker and filmmaker in Montreal, Canada. She has extensive experience as an outreach worker and as a bartender. She is currently the Streetwork Coordinator at Head & Hands. She gives workshops and trainings on harm reduction / safer drug use, self-care for frontline workers and crisis / suicide intervention as well as racism and the drug war.

Misanka Mupesse

Misanka is the current health educator at Head & Hands where she coordinates the SENSE project, an initiative where sex education is given in high schools with a peer-to-peer model. She’s a 25 year old libra and isn’t afraid to let you know what your chart means. Misanka has plans for the future of SENSE, where she hopes to create a more holistic and intersectional approach to learning about sexual health. As a Black woman, Misanka knows the importance of creating content which is appropriate and accessible to all people, not just a standardized model. Outside of work, Misanka volunteers as a tutor for elementary school youth and is also the co-founder or ChamPaint, a social initiative for people of colour to come together and celebrate themselves and find support in one another over a good glass of champagne and some paint art therapy.


Key Learnings

  • Harm reduction is the intent to minimize negative consequences.
  • Marginalized communities pioneered the harm reduction movement and embraced the core principles of bodily autonomy and nonjudgement.
  • We need to shift away from shame/blame and consider drug education reformed by a harm reduction perspective.

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