Over the past few months as I was preparing a few episodes for StandUp SpeakUp podcast, I travelled to Courtenay, B.C. on Vancouver Island, where local officials were pushing for overdose prevention sites. In fact, I met a woman downtown who had literally just come from the funeral of a young friend who had died of a fentanyl overdose. As I looked through my phone trying to track down friends to hang out with, I kept coming across Jerry Jr.’s number. I didn’t know him that well, but he was one of the most magnetic personalities in my friend group. You know where this story is going. He died of an overdose in recent months, too. Not taking him number out of my phone.

When my editor Karla suggested I do a podcast on harm reduction, I wasn’t sure what might ultimately arise. But I believe it’s an important topic to cover, so I embraced the idea. It was great to lay the foundation for the episode around Dr. Arnold Washton’s experiences treating people with alcohol abuse problems. I had recently learned about limited alcohol use detox programs, which I mentioned in my last episode, (pt. 2 of the Delaine Copenace story), so I had a sense of just how mainstream harm reduction had become. But the thing with trends is that it’s super easy to take a very uninspired look at it.

When I met Tim, while on my way to record the vocals at the WAMM studios on Vancouver Island, I started to get a sense of just how important harm reduction can be to helping people overcome personal challenges. That’s why I decided to start and end this episode with him. I know it’s popular to talk about the benefits of plant-based hallucinogen ayahuasca these days, but Tim’s approach to it really took me off guard. First of all, I was in a pretty conservative-feeling town at the time, so it kind of stood out in comparison with the rest of the context at that time. He brought it up out of the blue, but in the best way possible. It was nice to give him a chance to share a bit of his story. Of course, as a reporter myself, I was also excited to get the chance to interview a longtime London Free Press scribe, Randy Richmond, to get a sense of what’s going on to help sex workers and drug abusers in London, Ontario (I’ve always had a really grimy image of that city in my mind).

Knowing just how devastating the fentanyl crisis has become, it was really awesome to speak with a woman who has gone through her own public health journey from abstinence proponent to harm reduction advocate. It’s hard to hear she’s experienced such loss recently, but it’s good to know there’s people like her out there on the front lines.






Written By: Drew Penner

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