Harm reduction calls to action from young people who use drugs on the streets of Vancouver and Lisbon

Networking zone 1 (N1)

Abstract

Vancouver, Canada, and Lisbon, Portugal, are both celebrated for their world-leading harm reduction policies and programs, and regarded as models for other cities contending with the effects of increasing levels of drug use in the context of growing urban poverty. However, we challenge the notion that internationally celebrated places like Lisbon and Vancouver are meeting the harm reduction needs of young people who use drugs (YPWUD; referring here to individuals between the ages of 14 and 29). In particular, the needs of YPWUD in the context of unstable housing, homelessness, and entrenched poverty are not being adequately met. We are a group of community and academic researchers and activists working in Vancouver, Lisbon, and Pittsburgh. Most of us identify as YPWUD. We want to make several calls to action to support the harm reduction needs of YPWUD in the context of street involvement in and beyond our settings, including immeadiate investment in low-barrier, youth-dedicated and youth-led harm reduction programs and spaces, including safer consumption, drug checking, shelter, and housing sites. We will provide examples of how we are realizing youth-led harm reduction in Vancouver and Lisbon, respectively. By doing so, we highlight how youth-dedicated and youth-led harm reduction can be put into practice across different settings. In conclusion, we believe that YPWUD have the right to play an active role in dismantling the war on drugs and the war on the poor through bottom-up approaches to harm reduction.

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