New Alberta business collective aims to promote harm reduction, destigmatize drug use

Each + Every: Businesses for Harm Reduction is a collective of 50 companies across Alberta who are organizing to support harm reduction services, destigmatize drug use and increase the supply and use of naloxone kits.

Each + Every: Businesses for Harm Reduction launched last week

Each + Every: Businesses for Harm Reduction hopes to spread naloxone kits to become more common in more locations around Alberta. (Flora Pan/CBC)

When local businesses speak up about harm reduction services like supervised consumption sites, they have often been leading the charge in opposition. But a new business collective wants to change that narrative. 

Euan Thomson, owner of Raft Brew Labs in Calgary, said he knows many other business owners were tired of despairing over the number of overdose deaths occurring in Alberta and wanted to take action.

"It's way past time for all businesses to pull together and do something about this. It might seem unconventional, but we're there now," Thomson said on CBC Edmonton's Radio Active on Tuesday.

"We were tired of feeling helpless around this situation with these unbelievable numbers of overdose deaths and opioid poisonings."

Now, Thomson along with 50 businesses from a variety of industries in Edmonton, Calgary, Lethbridge and Lacombe have come together to form Each + Every: Businesses for Harm Reduction. The collective launched last week with the goals to support harm reduction services and work to destigmatize drug addiction.

In Thomson's own field, he said he saw the principles of harm reduction in action with the legal drinking age, serving regulations and labelling requirements. He said it didn't take long to realize he and other business owners should be voicing their support for these principles

"We just saw an opportunity for us to make a positive impact in this way, rather than being silent on the issue," Thomson said.

New statistics released on Tuesday show 1,281 Albertans died of drug poisonings in 2020, the highest total the province has seen in a single year.

Each + Every's response to the overdose crisis includes a series of destigmatization campaigns they hope to roll out soon. The immediate goal, Thomson says, is getting naloxone kits into more businesses so they can reverse overdoses. They're creating a line of window stickers businesses can use to let people know they carry naloxone inside.

Another goal is to get their staff trained on how to use naloxone when needed. Thomson said businesses are also keen to be registered as naloxone distribution sites too.

"You could walk in to fill your growler full of beer at a brewery, and at the same time get a naloxone kit with it and have a short training session with somebody on staff there who's qualified to train you," Thomson said.

The hope, Thomson says, is that people who use drugs will feel more comfortable around businesses when they see the sticker and the collective can help build a more welcoming and inclusive community.

Advisory board

Each + Every's work is all run through an advisory board made up of harm reduction experts and people with lived experience of drug use.

One member of that board, Mackie Vatter-Martineau, said he took a keen interest in the collective  as soon as he heard about it. 

Vatter-Martineau used opoids like fentanyl until he quit five years ago. Since then, he's been a peer support worker at Safeworks, Calgary's supervised consumption site, and now works with Calgary's Assisted Self-Isolation Site. 

Having naloxone kits in more businesses is one example of kind of wrap-around service that can help communities, he said. He hopes the collective's destigmatization campaign will normalize and popularize their use.

"Hopefully this just becomes normal. Just another thing that's out there like 'Oh yeah, this place has naloxone here, and I know how to use it,'" Vatter-Martineau said.

He added that he's sad to see how many families have been ruined by the opioid crisis and he hopes spreading naloxone kits can help make communities safer.

"How many people have died because a Narcan kit was nowhere nearby? How many times at Safeworks did I have somebody run six, seven city blocks to get to the site to grab a Narcan kit so they could run back to revive their buddy?" Vatter-Martineau said.

"At some point, we're going to hit this tipping point where everyone is going to know somebody, or know somebody who knows somebody, who's died of an opioid overdose. So let's start talking about it. Let's start coming up with solutions, because this isn't getting any better."

City council

On Friday, two members of Each + Every will speak to Edmonton city council in support of councillor Scott McKeen's motion to call on the federal government to declare the opioid crisis a national public health emergency, and to launch a safe supply drug pilot program in Edmonton.

McKeen said a business collective like Each + Every reflects that the public is further ahead on wanting drug policy reform than politicians, and that they want more done to help people with addiction.

"A lot of the problems associated with addiction are driven by shame and stigma. With this business group joining in, hopefully we can start to erode some of this shame and stigma around addiction," McKeen said.

"We need to start healing the people with addictions to further heal our community."