A few years ago, I was working as a professional chef when I experienced a pretty major life event involving substance use. It changed my career and life trajectory and made me decide to come back to school and study something I was passionate about.

So when I was reading through our MacEwan Residence group chat one day and saw someone ask if there was a harm reduction group for students, it caught my attention. There are so many firsts and new responsibilities when you’re in university, and sometimes that can feel like too much for any one person to handle. No one wants to feel alone, but a lot of people do. I know I have. 

I learned about CHARM (the Coalition for Harm Reduction at MacEwan) and reached out. It’s a group of students, employees and community members who want to make the campus experience safer and better. With their help, I was able to create a weekly group in Residence for students recovering from or dealing with addiction.  

Addiction isn’t a moral failure; it’s a disease that we should treat like any other.
Connor Leflar

People often ask me what harm reduction is. To me, it’s about acknowledging that people are going to engage in some behaviours that have risk – that they might drink or use substances. It’s not about telling people not to engage in those behaviours, but how to protect people if they do – safe rides home, safe injection sites, access to Naloxone kits and knowing who to call for help. The goal is to help people and educate them so we can all do better together. 

Combatting the stigma around substance use is also really important. Addiction isn’t a moral failure; it’s a disease that we should treat like any other. But that treatment also requires us to change some of our social structures, which can be complex.

Pulling together resources, supporting other students and being able to pass along some of the things I’ve learned feels good. So does studying philosophy. I’ve always had questions, and studying philosophy gives me the tools to pursue the answers. It’s one of the ways I can make an impact on the world. 

– Connor Leflar, Bachelor of Arts student, Philosophy and student representative for the Coalition for Harm Reduction at MacEwan (CHARM)

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