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An Interview with Cameron Schwartz, Administrative Coordinator of Karmik


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Karmik

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2017/03/30

Note: This interview has been edited for clarity, readability, and concision.

How did you become involved in Karmik?

It was a couple years ago. A friend was asked to lead one of the workshops from the volunteer training. I heard about Karmik through them, and decided to attend. I was eager to become involved with it.

You are the administrative coordinator of Karmik. What tasks and responsibilities come with the position?

I do a lot of the back-end work. I organize and manage behind the scenes.

What is the vision of Karmik?

As a harm reduction organization, we say, “We meet people where they are at.” We acknowledge their rights to make their own decisions, and that they will do what they think is best for them. We are there to support them to make the decisions in the safest way.

What are targeted objectives of Karmik?

We try to help people through difficult situations, especially when doing live events. We do peer counselling work. We talk to people. We help them sort out issues. Sometimes, at music festivals or events, their friends might not be there or they might need other sources of support.

We also distribute supplies to reduce transmission of STIs. We hand out party packs with condoms, lube, and straws. Overall, we aim to educate the public as well as advocate for sensible government policies surrounding harm reduction.

With the peer counselling work, what are some of the topics people want to discuss?

It depends on the event. If a music festival is not held in a city, there are fewer supports for mental health, e.g. professional mental health support. People might not have anyone to turn to, and many will not leave the festival to seek mental health support or for addictions.

On an informal, peer to peer basis, we help people talk through these issues. Sometimes, altered states play into this as well. It is not super emotionally involved all of the time, though. For example, they might need a ride home, and we might suggest calling friends or a cab.

There are stigmas in substance use and in mental illness. For those finding the privacy and comfort to discuss these things within the safe context, what tactics can be used to help those having a bad trip or might be predisposed to have bad ones?

If it is the result of a substance, it depends on the substance and its effects. Sometimes it comes down to just having a peer.

Many people will not feel comfortable approaching the RCMP or a security guard to talk about these issues for a variety of reasons. For tactics, I am surprised by the effect from being there, hanging out with them.

These peer counselling skills can be taught, but much of it comes from skills everyone has. Of course, other support systems are required in some cases, and we do our best to work with them and refer people when appropriate.

Karmik is a harm reduction organization. It tends to involve treatment, prevention, harm reduction, and enforcement. Some organizations will use all of those. Others will use some of those. What ones does Karmik use in assistance for youth activities?

In the context of the Four Pillars drug strategy, we are a harm reduction organization. It is important to recognize that is not the solution to everyone’s problems. However, it is the solution to some issues.

We will refer people to local services and other organizations to help them when necessary, but we operate from a harm reduction standpoint.

What are some of Karmik’s main activities for BC youth?

We do outreach work including going to parties, raves, and music festivals. Beyond that, we work on policy. We are involved in various community meetings, for example the DOAP, Drug Overdose Alert Partnership.

We have the fentanyl crisis. Typically, it is associated with heroin now. Many have recommended naloxone kits to prevent death by overdose. How are things for youth regarding the crisis? Other substances of potential harm too.

The reality is that it is not one group or locality. The fentanyl epidemic has been affecting recreational users of many substances from all demographics, including youth.

It is an incredibly complex issue. One thing we advocate for is freely available access to drug testing. In terms of substances laced with adulterants, this would require lab quality testing to assess dosages in micrograms, which, in the case of fentanyl, can be active and fatal.

What are the short-term initiatives for Karmik? Those that are not online at the moment.

We are advocating for easier access to fentanyl testing strips. It is a band aid to a larger problem, though. It is something immediate and available, and we want to increase accessibility for those services.

While it is not necessarily something new, we try to train community members to distribute naloxone. We have been doing this in partnership with Vancouver Coastal Health. We will try to have more autonomy with our own trainings to be the team to provide naloxone training to our community.

How would you like the organization to grow? What impacts would you like to see?

One long-term project is the development of informational resources. I want to see Karmik continue to approach substance use and other harm reduction related issues based on evidence  and research.

I want to see Karmik’s or other organizations’ services provided at more local events in addition to bigger events and productions. That would go a long way.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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