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One Kit at a Time

February 2/2021

By Françoise Makanda, Communications Officer at DLSPH

Harm reduction is misunderstood, and the stigma attached to drug use masks the program’s importance, says DLSPH student Tionné Polin, who is gaining valuable experience working with a needle exchange.

“Volunteering has taught me a lot about the needs of my community,” says Polin, an MPH first-year student in health promotion and the Collaborative Specialization in Women’s Health.

A photo of Tionne Polin

Tionné Polin, MPH first year student in health promotion and the Collaborative Specialization in Women’s Health.

As a volunteer, she helps the Peel Works Needle Exchange Program make kits for people in need. Lately, she has noticed more uptake among the program’s recipients.

“There’s a misconception about harm reduction,” Polin says. “It’s about making drug use safer.”

Every week, she, alongside a handful of volunteers, put kits together based on need. Kits are developed with different types of drug use in mind, including sterile needles, vitamin c packets and glass pipes for safer inhalation, to name a few. Some come with different sized needles and alcohol swabs, but every kit comes with a pamphlet based on drug type and information on what to do in the event of an overdose.

It’s not designed to encourage drug use, which is a common misconception, she says, it’s a way to reduce overdoses and help people stay safe. “All the things in the kit will help someone to consume the drug safely,” she says. “There are even tools for safer snorting – It is a really well-thought-out harm reduction program, for example, two straws of different colours are included so that people are not consuming the drug from the same straw.”

There is a pick-up option but most consumers call the team with their delivery request, which reduces accessibility barriers. Many of the consumers are not necessarily street-involved or can be easily stereotyped.

“We need to remember that yes, drugs can be harmful but we should not necessarily try to control people,” says Polin. “What we can try to do is reduce the harm and stigma, so that they feel comfortable to reach out rather than using things that are potentially harmful.”

In the courses, she is taking with Profs. Arjumand Siddiqi and Roberta Timothy, Polin recognizes that harm reduction is a resolution to a broader problem.

“It feels meaningful to be part of something that is controversial, but makes a difference,” she says. “And when I talk to people about this experience, it enlightens them, and they see the value of these services.”