Victoria’s YES2SCS Campaign: From Evidence to Action

Ten years ago, community meetings held in Victoria on the subject of “what to do” about drug use in our community were typically loud, sometimes hostile, and certainly full of impassioned energy. Those of us who saw the lack of housing, absence of accessible washrooms, and dearth of health and social supports for people living on the streets spoke out about safety concerns, risk of disease transmission, and exposure of our children to some of the more devastating of human experiences. Those of us who worked with people who use illicit drugs, or perhaps admired the work that was being done just across the water in Vancouver at Insite and the Dr Peter Centre, spoke out about the need for increased access to health care services grounded in scientific evidence and compassionate care. The voices we never heard were those of people who were living on the streets, being crushed by the everyday weight of poverty, trauma, and addiction, and never considered part of the community to begin with.

ImageThe evidence showing the positive impact and efficacy that harm-reduction approaches to illicit drug use have on the health and well-being of local communities continued to accumulate as we debated in our town hall meetings and forums.  Victoria is home to some of the brightest minds engaged in drug-policy reform, nursing care, direct support services, and addictions research, all whom have contributed to the stacks of reportsarticles and blogs that support the need to increase access to harm-reduction services. The evidence has been in for a long time, but we apparently were not yet ready for it.

Since then, conversations have continued, broadened, and are no less impassioned when it comes to drug use in Victoria. Ten years of debate, evidence, community organizing and a slow-but-steady opening of our collective hearts and minds has brought us to a place where perspectives are not so divided. Ten years ago, I would not have believed my ears had I heard the conversations taking place today. Those of us who lashed out with anger and fear for the safety of our children now speak about how supervised injection services could be part of our community response to drug use and reducing risks for all. We talk about how we can share information, educate ourselves, listen to experiential knowledge, and work together to meet  those moments where the impacts of poverty, trauma and addiction collide with pragmatic and empathic responses.  Those of us who use illicit drugs speak out with wisdom and courage of our pain and our struggle—and, increasingly, we are being heard.

Harm-reduction services are a critically important part of how we respond to the reality of illicit drug use in our society. They are not a panacea for addiction, but they are proven to save lives, engage and support people who we typically despise and isolate, and increase the capacity of communities to reduce risk and improve overall health. Victoria is finally ready to put evidence into action.

ImageThe YES2SCS campaign (Yes to Supervised Consumption Services) has been created to harness the impassioned momentum that is continuing to move our community forward. The campaign includes healthcare professionals, people who use(d) illicit drugs, researchers, community activists, social workers, and individuals committed to social justice and public health.  YES2SCS exists to unite the many Greater Victoria residents who know we can set the ground for supervised consumption services in our community. It’s time to harness this renewed energy and readiness to try new and effective strategies for caring for one another. We invite you to join us in asserting our capacity to create a healthier community for everyone!

To learn more about YES2SCS and to support the campaign through letter writing, petition signing, event organizing, and creating opportunities for dialogue, please connect with us:‎


Author: Heather Hobbs, Coordinator of Harm Reduction Services for the South Island at AIDS Vancouver Island.

Why are BC high school students making healthier choices?

Teens sometimes get a bad rap for being careless with their bodies and minds. But according to McCreary Centre Society’s 2013 Adolescent Health Survey, published in February 2014, most of the 30,000 BC youth surveyed say they are healthy or very healthy (87 percent), and 8 out of 10 report good or excellent mental health (81 percent). The majority also said they feel cared for, competent and confident about their future.

Along with feeling good about themselves and their world, more young people are steering clear of alcohol and other drugs. Survey results show substance use rates have been declining over the last 10 years, and the majority of students in Grades 7 through 12 say they have never experimented with alcohol, cannabis (marijuana) or tobacco.

Source: Smith, A., Stewart, D., Poon, C., Peled, M., Saewyc, E., & McCreary Centre Society (2014). From Hastings Street to Haida Gwaii: Provincial results of the 2013 BC Adolescent Health Survey. Vancouver, BC: McCreary Centre Society.

Part of what’s driving this decline is that young people are waiting longer before trying drugs. For example, 35 percent of young people who have ever tried alcohol waited until they were 15 or older (compared to only 20 percent in 2003), and of those who have ever tried cannabis, 41 percent waited until they were 15 or older (compared to 28 percent in 2003).

Equally positive, youth who are choosing to use alcohol or other drugs seem to be taking fewer risks. For example, 2 percent of those who had ever used alcohol said they had driven after drinking in the past month, down from 6 percent in 2008 and 8 percent in 2003. There was also a decrease in impaired driving among youth who had ever used cannabis, although 9 percent had done so in the past month.

So, why are BC youth making healthier choices? A number of protective factors seem to be at play including family connectedness. For instance, youth who felt their family paid attention to them were less likely to drive after drinking than those who did not experience such attention (2 percent vs. 6 percent). They were also less likely to have been a passenger in a vehicle with someone who had been drinking (15 percent vs. 33 percent).

Having someone to confide in seems to make a difference too. Students with supportive adults in their lives are less likely to have used alcohol (43 percent vs. 54 percent). And, among students who had tried alcohol, those with an adult they could turn to were less likely to report binge drinking in the past month (37 percent vs. 42 percent). Youth in government care who had a supportive teacher or other caring adult in their lives were also less likely to binge drink in the past month.

What exactly does this mean for parents, teachers and other caring adults in young peoples’ lives? Many teens are making healthy and positive decisions and we can continue to support and acknowledge the positive decisions they are making. For teens who are struggling to maintain their health or happiness, we can make a difference by reaching out to them. Finally, we must continue leading by example. By being happy and healthy adults, we show young people that health itself is a worthy life-long goal.

For more information about the results from the 2013 BC Adolescent Health Survey:


Author: Nicole Bodner, Centre for Addictions Research of BC

**Please note that the material presented here does not necessarily imply endorsement or agreement by individuals at the Centre for Addictions Research of BC