All About Drug Checking (Part 3): Check’It! Peer-led Drug Checking at Mountainside Harm Reduction Society

Including people with lived and living experience in harm reduction services is an essential component to any interventions’ success, and drug checking is no exception.

Mountainside Harm Reduction Society is an entirely peer-led organization that employs people with lived experience, or ‘peer workers’, to deliver low-barrier harm reduction services like drug checking. Their peer-led model differs from some more traditional models of care where people with professional schooling may be favoured over people with lived experience.

“People who come in to get their drugs checked, especially people who are street-entrenched, they want to see people who have that [same] experience,” said Aeris Finch, a drug checking technician in his second year working for Mountainside Harm Reduction Society in the Fraser Valley.

“They want someone who has been in their shoes, they feel safer and they feel more listened to and more heard and have an easier time trusting people.”

Like all community drug checking services across BC, the Mountainside Harm Reduction Society Check’It team provides people who use drugs with information regarding their drug composition. This information can be life-saving, as unregulated compounds like fentanyl and benzodiazepines continue to drive the toxic drug crisis.

By prioritizing the employment of peers, Mountainside is recognizing the expertise that comes with lived and living experience. That experience can help individuals be uniquely qualified to deliver services in their communities and may improve drug checking services overall.

Helping Peers Helps Peer-Workers

Peer workers have a positive impact on the services they provide, but the services also positively impact peer workers themselves.

“We have had access to our own safe supply for the entire time that we've been doing [drug checking],” said Will McLellan, co-executive director of the Mountainside Harm Reduction Society and project manager for their drug checking program.

McLellan emphasized that working in drug checking is what allows him and other peers to manage their own use of substances. Having access to the drug checking machine provides them with access to a safer supply of drugs — that is, they can consistently check any substances they may use to get more information on the drug composition and adulterants.

Both Finch and McLellan agree that their roles as drug checking technicians have helped keep them on track with their substance use and recovery goals. This continues to benefit them individually and allows for a successful drug checking service.

Aeris Finch (left) and Will McLellan (right). Image courtesy of Will McLellan.

“There's still a lot of stigma.”

Stigma In Drug Checking

Despite the positive response from the communities they serve, McLellan and Finch agree that barriers persist to peers working in drug checking.

“There's still a lot of stigma,” said McLellan.

“That's the main thing we get from people that work in the [drug checking] industry, but [who] don't have lived experience themselves”.

This stigma may discourage peers from pursuing jobs in drug checking, limiting who benefits from the technology, both as providers and those who access the service. The stigma surrounding the capabilities of peers has also historically limited training resources and opportunities offered to them.

“The biggest hurdle is having a society that's willing to train you and invest in you,” said Finch.

“There's some webinars that you take and some basic theory, but it's really all hands-on learning from people who do [drug checking] on the front lines.”

McLellan and Finch both agree that the enthusiastic support from Fraser Health and the drug checking technician training with the BC Centre on Substance Use continues to be essential in helping Mountainside Harm Reduction Society’s peer-led drug checking services to grow.

Looking Ahead

Long-term, the Mountainside Harm Reduction Society has big goals for drug checking. One goal they have is to expand beyond the 10 sites they currently provide drug checking services at.

“I'm excited to see what's going to happen next year,” said Finch.

“I feel really fulfilled doing what I'm doing. I like talking about what I do with my people, with my friends…and just [using] your experience to help other people, that's extremely satisfying.”

Mountainside Harm Reduction Society continues to provide peer-led drug checking services throughout the Fraser Valley, as they look to their future goals, prioritizing people with lived experience to best service their communities.

This blog post is one part in an ongoing series being produced by The Drug Checking Project team. The goal of the series to give an in-depth look into what drug checking is, the impact the service has, the people involved across BC, and where drug checking is going.

Additional information and data can be found on our website at and other posts in this series will be made available here on the BCCSU website.