Harm Reduction Work is Positively Impacting Lives

July 9, 2020. Article by: Government of B.C.

While overdose deaths are alarmingly high in British Columbia, there are people dedicating their life’s work to supporting safer substance use and helping people to navigate their paths to recovery.

One of these individuals is Sherif Amara, a Clinical Operations Manager in Mental Health and Substance Use with Fraser Health. He manages teams that support individuals who use substances and/or have mental health challenges.

Sherif shares his passion for his work and how his team is meeting people ‘where they are at’…with kindness, compassion, and hope.

The importance of harm reduction work

Sherif first came to Fraser Health to assist in the opening of the SafePoint Supervised Consumption Site in 2017. Since then, an injectable opioid agonist treatment (iOAT) program has opened that offers the prescription medication, diacetylmorphine. This program is part of the provincial government’s commitment to expand the use of pharmaceutical alternatives to the toxic drug supply.  

Sherif believes that everyone deserves equal access to treatment and support for their health needs. The individuals he works may experience stigma associated with substance use.

Every human is worthy of a chance and should be treated with respect and kindness. The smallest gestures in life can make someone’s day. A simple ‘hello’ or ‘how are you doing today?’ can go a long way.

Trauma and substance use

Sherif says that in his work, he often sees substance use challenges tied to trauma people have experienced in the past.

You never know what someone has gone through in the past or is experiencing in the present. Everyone has a story and that is what makes non-judgmental care so important.

One of the keys to providing care is meeting a client where they are at in their substance use and working with clients to develop individualized care plans. It may also take several attempts to engage with someone.

Compassion towards substance use

Sherif believes that compassion and respect encourages people to access important substance use services. It also can decrease feelings of shame or blame that can contribute to isolation.

Because many people who use substances have experienced discrimination in health services, open, non-judgmental support can reduce stigma and increase engagement.  

We need to choose our words wisely to ensure positive messages are relayed through generations. Our words have a significant impact in encouraging others to reach out for help and you never know who might be listening.

Non-judgemental conversations

Approaching substance use conversations without judgment can help create more opportunities for clients to speak honestly about their concerns and needs.

Sherif finds that simply listening to others talk about substance use challenges is an experience that many people have never had. People may not have been given an opportunity to share their story.

Acknowledging someone’s voice and concerns can positively impact lives.

How can you help someone

Sherif emphasizes that individuals, communities, and organizations can make a difference in supporting people experiencing substance use challenges.

If you know someone that might need help, he encourages you to engage in conversations and listen without judgment.

Become familiar with a “trauma-informed care”. This approach considers the need for services to respond to an individual’s intersecting experiences of trauma, mental health and substance use concerns. Service providers are aware of and acknowledge how trauma impacts the wellness of a client. Care is strengths-based and emphasizes safety and trustworthiness (physical, emotional, spiritual, and cultural safety); and choice, collaboration and relational connection.

It’s important to understand that everyone has a story that led them to where they are now.

Build a sense of community…it feels great to be included and heard.

He suggests learning about harm reduction strategies that keep individuals safe. Lastly, Sherif emphasizes “be kind…and have an open mind”.

Where to find help


If you or someone you know uses drugs, visit an overdose prevention or supervised consumption site near you, get a free Naloxone kit and use with a buddy. Use the Lifeguard app if you are alone. There are ways to stay safer

If you suspect an overdose, call 9-1-1 right away.


* Sherif Amara was featured in Humans of Fraser Health publication. Read more profiles.