“Their work will save lives”: Nanaimo youth honoured with 2024 Youth Harm Reduction Award

Island Health has recognized three Nanaimo youth for their efforts to promote harm reduction awareness and training at their school, Learning Alternatives. On June 6, the 2024 Youth Harm Reduction Award was given to Dannika Gilbert, Alexa Meekison and Nevaeh Thomas.


Pictured (left to right): Nevaeh Thomas, Dannika Gilbert, and Alexa Meekison 

“It's inspiring to see these students taking initiative and working together to save lives and raise awareness of poisoned drugs in their community,” said Jennifer Whiteside, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. “Harm reduction is incredibly challenging work, and what Dannika, Alexa and Nevaeh have accomplished takes a lot of strength and a lot of heart.”

“The passion, interest and tenacity demonstrated by these students to increase harm reduction literacy for themselves, their peers and their friends shone through,” says Jessica Huston, manager of substance use and harm reduction at Island Health. “We were impressed by their efforts to bring forward the full spectrum of supports and information to Learning Alternatives. Congratulations Dannika, Alexa and Nevaeh on winning this year’s Youth Harm Reduction Award!”

The students’ project was inspired by a presentation from Griffin Russell, a school health promotion specialist at Island Health. One aspect involved the development of a display board, which is mounted in a main school hallway and contains up-to-date information about drug checking and drug-poisoning prevention.

In addition, Dannika, Alexa and Nevaeh were taught how to administer naloxone, a vital step in responding to opioid poisonings that can save lives. In turn, they trained more than 20 staff and teen students at Learning Alternatives in rescue breathing and the use of naloxone kits. Participants also received naloxone kits and resources provided by Island Health.

In collaboration with the Canadian Mental Health Association, the trio visited the drug-checking service offered at the Nanaimo overdose prevention site, and familiarized themselves with Substance, a drug-checking service in Victoria. Related materials are included on their display board, with special attention given to mail-in drug-checking services. Future trainings on these and other services are planned for students and staff.

“Our experience working on this project with Island Health has been incredibly rewarding,” says Dannika Gilbert, one of the winning youth. “We’ve gained a deeper understanding of drug use and its impact on individuals and communities, as well as valuable skills to support harm reduction efforts and promote safer practices within our community.”

“Alexa, Dannika and Nevaeh showed courage and determination in learning about serious topics such as the drug poisoning crisis, responding to an opioid poisoning and drug checking,” says Brett Hancock, principal of Learning Alternatives. “Knowing they did so with an interest toward reducing risk of harm for others is inspiring. Their work will save lives and we are grateful to have them as student leaders.”

Island Health’s annual Youth Harm Reduction Award is open to people under 19 who live in the Island Health region. Projects focused on public health harm reduction in their communities are eligible. Applications will be reviewed typically in April, with the recipient announced in June.

Harm reduction aims to reduce negative health, social and legal impacts associated with a range of activities. Widely accepted practices include the use of seatbelts and bike helmets, condoms, speed limits and sunscreen. Regarding the toxic drug crisis, harm reduction often refers to safer ways to consume substances, safer substance use supplies and the use of naloxone to reduce the effects of drug poisonings from opioids.