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‘Naloxone on site’: Victoria businesses doing their part for harm reduction

Look around next time you’re in line at Discovery Coffee and you’ll see a sticker with the phrase “Naloxone on site” on a nearby window pane.

Storing the life-saving medication – and letting customers know it’s there – is part of a grassroots harm reduction pledge called EACH+EVERY that some businesses across Greater Victoria, including Discovery Coffee, have signed onto.

The Canadawide initiative asks businesses to acknowledge the drug poisoning crisis, make Naloxone accessible on location and offer training to staff. It currently boasts over 150 member businesses in six provinces.

Discovery Coffee education manager Brittany Davies said making a public commitment to harm reduction was a tangible action the business could take in the face of Victoria’s ongoing public health emergency.

“We have four cafe spaces in very unique neighborhoods,” she explained. “Joining EACH+EVERY is a public commitment to keeping our communities safe.”

The cafe put up signage alerting customers to its Naloxone supply in early September, after receiving resources through EACH+EVERY and completing staff training.

Naloxone is a drug used to temporarily reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. In B.C., kits containing the medication are free at most drugstores or through the province’s Take Home Naloxone program.

Drug poisoning deaths have risen steadily since B.C. declared a public health emergency in 2016. The rate of overdose deaths has nearly doubled provincially from 20.4 per 100,000 in 2016 to 39.7 per 100,000 in 2021 – in Victoria alone, 87 people died from illicit drug toxicity by the end of July.

READ MORE: 184 people died of illicit drug overdoses in July in B.C.’s 2nd deadliest month

Euan Thomson is the owner of Raft Brew Labs in Calgary and a co-founder of EACH+EVERY. He said while he appreciates how actively B.C. engages in harm reduction compared to Alberta, that alone won’t cut it.

“We need to get to the root of the problem in drug policy,” he said. “People need to recognize that this is a society-wide problem.”

Part of the solution, Thomson believes, is showing political leaders that not all businesses are against harm reduction initiatives.

“Businesses want to see action taken on this crisis,” he said.

With a background in brewing and selling beer, Thomson is uniquely poised to play a role in his community’s opioid epidemic response. The alcohol industry, he pointed out, has been prioritizing harm reduction since prohibition ended in the early 20th century.

“With alcohol prohibition, we were seeing an almost identical pattern of deaths from poisoning as a result of methanol,” Thomson said. “We’ve repeated it almost identically with the opiate supply today, where fentanyl and other contaminants have worked their way into the supply.”

READ MORE: Greater Victoria organizations mark International Overdose Awareness Day

Ryan Bangma, general manager of Herald Street Brew Works, says staff at the downtown Victoria brewery finished Naloxone training in September. He agrees breweries have a role to play in spearheading harm reduction initiatives.

“As a brewery, we deal with a substance called alcohol, and there are a lot of regulations and safety practices around that,” he said. “We could do a lot of the same work (around opioid use).”

Bangma added even if his staff never have to use their Naloxone training, the brewery’s harm reduction efforts could save a life somewhere else.

“If another local business sees that we’re involved, then maybe that will help them get involved as well,” he said. “We might not need to administer Naloxone, but maybe they will.”

Five Greater Victoria businesses are currently listed as members of the EACH+EVERY initiative – Discovery Coffee, Herald Street Brew Works, Whistle Buoy Brewing Company, The Allenby Coffee Bar, and consulting business Project X.

To learn more about EACH+EVERY and its harm reduction projects, visit eachandevery.org.


Do you have a story tip? Email: tegwyn.hughes@blackpress.ca.

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Tegwyn Hughes

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