A Peer Support Approach to Supporting Students Who Use Substances

As a campus peer support staff or volunteer, it’s important to know the basic principles of harm reduction, as covered in this section. It is also important to be aware of what resources are available on campus for students who use substances.

Check out what your program and campus approach is to supporting students who use substances. Talk to your supervisor about what you need to know specifically, and if your program has any specific policies that you need to follow.

The risk of someone dying from a drug overdose has increased because of BC’s fentanyl crisis, and unsafe supply issue. Using alone can be very dangerous.

Be clear on specific things you can do to support someone to use in a safe way.

  • Get a Naloxone kit for yourself, and learn how to use it
  • Know where people can access Naloxone kits, and support the distribution of kits (pharmacies offer them free)
  • Share resources about never using alone, as using alone increases someone’s chance for an overdose
  • Be aware of the Lifeguard app, and encourage students who use drugs to use the app
    • As reported by Global News (2020), Lifeguard is an app that is activated by the user before they take their dose of drugs. After 50 seconds the app will sound an alarm. If the user doesn’t hit a button to stop the alarm, indicating they are fine, the alarm grows louder. After 75 seconds a text-to-voice call will go straight to 911, alerting emergency medical dispatchers of a potential overdose.
  • Be aware of the support your campus provides for people who drink excessive amounts of alcohol

For further reference, check out the student website Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy (CSSDP). The BC Chapter is located at UBC.

CSSDP is “a grassroots network of youth and students who are concerned about the negative impact our drug policies have on individuals and communities. We consider drug use a health and human rights issue rather than a criminal-legal issue. We advocate for evidence-based responses to reduce and prevent harms associated with drug use and drug criminalization.”

The Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous Option

Although harm reduction is evidence-based, and is the principle recommended by most governmental and campus organizations, some people find personal success using an abstinence approach to substance use. Many people appreciate the peer connection and support that the Alcoholics Anonymous or similar 12-step models provide.

Whatever your thoughts are about abstinence, if someone you are working with prefers that approach, it’s important to support them with it. Be aware of any local meetings that they can attend, or if there are any meetings happening right on campus that students can attend.


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Post-Secondary Peer Support Training Curriculum Copyright © 2022 by Jenn Cusick is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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