Urgent need for difficult anti-stigma conversations: drug policy advisor

Karen Ward
Karen Ward, DTES harm reduction advocate and drug policy advisor to City of Vancouver / Photo courtesy of Karen Ward
Laurence Gatinel - CFRO - VancouverBC | 22-02-2021

By David P. Ball
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Karen Ward, a Downtown Eastside resident and drug policy advisor to the City of Vancouver, says that harm reduction activists shouldn’t shy away from difficult public conversations — despite how frustrating they may be.

She told The Pulse on CFRO that governments’ slow movement on drug law reform is partly rooted in a continuing lack of acceptance or support among the public.

Most recently, the federal government announced a set of pilot projects in BC for producing a safer supply of drugs — while the feds also unveiled a crime bill last week that would end mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offences.

Ward and others have blasted the latter as woefully insufficient to decriminalizing drugs altogether — but without broader public demands for change to improve the safety of substance users, Ward warned the dial will continue to move too slowly. It takes ongoing engagement with the public, she said.

But those conversation are often not easy, since some users of social media sites do not see substance users as “fully human” or deserving of rights or protection.

Ward shares her strategies for when to engage — and when to block.

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