Victoria team honoured with Youth Harm Reduction Award

A Victoria-based Youth Action Team that promoted harm reduction education and training at Belmont Secondary School has been recognized by Island Health for its innovation and dedication. At the end of May, the 2023 Youth Harm Reduction Award was given to team members Jaden Lee, Kai Lessard, Samantha Paluch and Matthew O’Connell.


Pictured left to right: Jaden Lee, Matthew O’Connell and Samantha Paluch

“Wellness promotion, education and prevention can stop small problems from becoming bigger down the road, while harm reduction measures can save lives, reduce the risk of toxic drug poisonings and connect people to lifesaving supports”, said Jennifer Whiteside, minister of mental health and addictions. “Congratulations to the winners of the Youth Harm Reduction Award! The leadership you’ve demonstrated will go a long way in helping your peers access the supports they need and help us tackle the toxic drug crisis.” 

“We’re thrilled to offer this award to these Belmont Secondary students for their tremendous dedication, creativity and work to offer their peers naloxone training and harm reduction education,” says Jessica Huston, manager of substance use and harm reduction at Island Health. “The momentum of the Youth Action team continues to have positive ripple effects, including interest from other school districts for their training.” 

In spring 2022, the Youth Action Team surveyed 155 Belmont Secondary students as part of a naloxone training event. The aim was to explore their peers’ awareness of substance use, and to find out what they needed to further harm reduction efforts. 

“It was really surprising for us to know that lots of people felt like the community needed more education regarding substance use,” says Jaden Lee, one of the winning youth. “And many didn’t know where to access the resources.” As a result of the findings, Island Health and Belmont Secondary administrators have developed a plan to help teachers deliver substance use education this fall.

“Substance use should be talked about more, especially to young folks. It’s important to know these things,” adds fellow award winner Samantha Paluch. “There are always going to be people affected by drugs and opioids, and if they are going to take them they should at least know how to do it safely.”

The team also produced a short video highlighting the project that has been shared with staff from School District 62 and community partners. Using supportive data from the video, the school district was successful in obtaining federal funding to incorporate substance use education into the curriculum.

The Youth Action Team continues to advance its efforts – in May 2023, it held naloxone training days at three secondary schools, including a follow-up session at Belmont Secondary.

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 beginning in March, 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.