Harm Reduction Coordinator’s Tragic Loss Grieved by Colleagues and Community Members

(TORONTO: February 21, 2017)Raffi Balian began his work with South Riverdale Community Health Center (SRCHC) in 1998. He was hired to develop the COUNTERfit Harm Reduction program in South East Toronto. With sensitivity, skill and a deep commitment to people who use drugs, Raffi created what has become a locally and internationally recognized program that has won awards and been acclaimed by researchers, academics, colleagues and the vast community of people who use drugs. As an injection drug user himself, Raffi has been the face, the heart and the soul of Harm Reduction both in our community and more broadly.  Everyone he has touched, has been challenged and encouraged to see the humanity, potential and right for each person to live fully without judgement or recrimination. 

Raffi died too soon, and his death, determined to have been an ‘accidental overdose’, seems a simplistic summary of a vibrant and meaningful life lost in the continuing war on drugs and people who use drugs. This is the battle Raffi had tirelessly led and relentlessly fought.  He knew that as long as we don’t decriminalize and regulate the supply of safe drugs, lives will continue to be unnecessarily and tragically lost.  His death is one more horrible reminder that our current strategies are clearly not enough. 

At this time, the community of individuals who have benefited from and support Raffi's work are challenged to continue his fight to create a more just world. If we persist in criminalizing drug use as a effective intervention, we cannot expect to end stigma and discrimination against people who use drugs. 

Now we will mourn the senseless loss of an extraordinary and beautiful life, and recognize that Raffi’s death must move us all to recommit to making his vision a reality.

Details of a celebration of Raffi’s life will be posted on the South Riverdale Community Health Centre web site at  http://www.srchc.ca/.  The family has requested that any donations be made in Raffi’s memory to the Raffi Balian Fund, to further the work he began in Harm Reduction.  The donation website via Canada Help’s can be accessed at canadahelps.org/en/charities or in-person/by mail c/o Rose Shang 955 Queen St E Toronto, ON M4M3P3.

For more information, contact:


Jason Altenberg

Director of Programs and Services, South Riverdale Community Health Centre  

Phone: 416-778-2209

Cell: 416-500-8536

Email:  JAltenberg@srchc.com

Website: www.srchc.com