By Mathew Bonn, for FilterMag

Today, International Drug Users Remembrance Day, is one day among all the others when the people we have lost continue to pop up in our thoughts through little memories, good or bad. It’s a day to acknowledge and value all the lives needlessly lost worldwide.

I’m just one young drug user among millions, living in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. Each passing year, I lose three or four friends and comrades due to the toxic drug supply and the policy conditions and prejudice that create it.

The first one over the past 12 months that really shocked me and hit me hard was Jesse Harvey, who died in September 2020. It seems like everything we find out these days is through our phones or social media. It takes on a surreal, sinister feeling when you scroll and see your favourite harm reduction journalist tweet: “I’m at a loss of words this morning #HarmReduction has lost yet another one of its quiet heroes”—and then you realize you knew him well.

Jesse was such a brave young advocate, creating and effecting change as co-founder of the Church of Safe Injection in Maine. He was one of the first non-Canadian advocates I spoke with in depth as my commitment to international advocacy grew. We actually talked about maybe setting up a Canadian chapter, but at that time most of my focus was on working to open up our local overdose prevention site. Jesse was passing out safe using supplies, naloxone and fentanyl testing strips even when doing so was illegal, because that’s who he was. He talked about his battles to register the Church as a nonprofit and win it religious exemption from US drug laws.

“We’re not saying it’s our religious belief to use heroin. No, not at all,” he told NPR the year before his death. “We’re saying that it’s our sincerely held religious belief that people who use drugs don’t deserve to die when there are decades of solutions.”