Left to right: Jaden Lee, Matthew O’Connell and Samantha Paluch. Not pictured is Kai Lessard. (Island Health)

Four teens from Belmont Secondary School in Langford were given an award for their innovation and dedication to harm reduction education and training.

Jaden Lee, Kai Lessard, Samantha Paluch and Matthew O’Connell each received $1,000 and a framed certificate for their efforts in holding up the values of the Youth Harm Reduction Award that Island Health gives out annually. 

The award originated in Victoria when three youths lost a friend to drug poisoning and brought harm reduction training and education to their school in an effort to make sure this kind of thing did not happen again. 

Sadly, with every passing year more people across all BC municipalities lose their lives to the toxic drug crisis.


The four Belmont Secondary students were given this award because they surveyed 155 of their peers as part of a naloxone training event to find out what the awareness level of substance use was in their fellow students.

They did this survey in order to provide feedback to their school district and Island Health what further education and resources they thought their peers could benefit from on the topic of harm reduction. 

“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.” 

Next school year, Island Health will have a plan in place to help teachers deliver additional substance use resources to students as a direct result of these four teens’ efforts.

They also created a video highlighting their findings which helped School District 62 secure federal funding to pay for the education and resources required to add harm reduction subject matter into the curriculum. 

“Substance use should be talked about more, especially to young folks. It’s important to know these things,” added Samantha Paluch fellow award winner. 

“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.”

Harm reduction often gets cast in a negative light by people who don’t understand it. Some think it is just handing drugs to those who they believe are abusing substances — this isn’t the case.

Some common harm reduction tactics include calling a taxi if too much alcohol has been consumed to safely drive, wearing a seatbelt, using condoms and even wearing sunscreen. 

When it comes to drug use, harm reduction refers to providing life-saving naloxone training to as many people as possible, safe consumption sites and drug testing sites.

Because of these students’ efforts, harm reduction education will reach more students next year which will help contribute to reducing the number of people who die from drug poisoning.

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