Obituaries

Boston’s harm reduction community mourns death of advocate Aubri Esters

“Aubri Esters, co-founder of SIFMA NOW, taught me so much about the power and worth and dignity of people who use drugs and how much more work we have to do.”

Aubri Esters. Family handout via the Boston Globe

Friends and colleagues are mourning the death of Aubri Esters, an advocate for harm reduction and overdose prevention efforts in Boston who championed rights for people struggling with substance use disorders. 

The 35-year-old was found dead in her Boston apartment by police on Thursday, the Boston Globe reports. Her cause of death remains pending. Esters had been on methadone to treat an opioid use disorder use for at least 10 years, according to WBUR

Esters was a co-founder of the SIF MA NOW, a coalition of medical and public health professionals, current and former substance users, and others advocating for safe consumption sites in Massachusetts. She founded Boston’s first drug users union and was a member of the state’s Harm Reduction Commission, which pushed for the Legislature to establish a pilot program for supervised injection sites in the state. 

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In her advocacy for safe consumption sites, Esters was open and direct about her own struggles with drug use, sharing her personal experiences to highlight the need for supervised sites to save lives. In 2016 at a SIF MA Now event, she spoke to how harm reduction efforts saved her life. 

“I had a chance to leave problematic drug use behind because I survived,” she said in 2016 at a SIF MA Now event. “A lot of my peers have not. I think part of the problem is there’s so much shame and stigma in talking about drug use and people identifying as a drug user that people isolate. They isolate their use, they isolate themselves; isolated selves and isolated use often lead to accidental overdose.

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State Sen. Cindy Friedman, who served with Esters on the commission, remembered the 35-year-old for her passion and commitment. 

“She used the bigotry and oppression that she faced as a transgender person, a substance user, and someone who experienced homelessness, to powerfully speak and act to protect those without a voice,” Friedman said in a statement to WBUR. “Her courage was remarkable.”

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh credited Estes for challenging him “to look at progressive drug user health policies in a different way, and helped me to grow on these issues.”

“She will be greatly missed,” he said in a statement.

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On social media, colleagues and those working on harm reduction remembered Estes for her strength and dedication.

SIF MA NOW is “devastated and grieving,” wrote Kim Sue, medical director of the Harm Reduction Coalition. 

“Aubri Esters, co-founder of SIFMA NOW, taught me so much about the power and worth and dignity of people who use drugs and how much more work we have to do,” the doctor wrote in a Twitter thread, urging people to continue the work that Esters was so dedicated to doing.

“This has hit a lot of us very hard,” Jess Tilley, executive Director of the New England Users Union, told WBUR. “We’ve lost one of our strongest champions in her prime. She was going places in organizing and championing for those who couldn’t do it themselves. There will be an emptiness in Boston for the voices of people who use drugs.”

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An outdoor memorial remembering Esters is planned for Thursday at 5 p.m. at First Church in Cambridge. The event is by invitation only at the request of her family in order to ensure social distancing, according to Jim Stewart, a member of SIFMA NOW and directer of the shelter at First Church Cambridge. 

A larger, public celebration of her life is being planned and will be publicized at a later date, he said.

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