‘It's too much, I'm getting really tired of it’: Overdose response and structural vulnerabilities among harm reduction workers in community settings

Gillian Kolla, Carol Strike (2019)

BACKGROUND : In response to the devastating overdose epidemic across Canada, overdose education and naloxone distribution programs (OEND) targeted at people who use drugs have been scaled-up. The ways in which people who use drugs (PWUD) – who experience social and structural vulnerabilities due to their drug use – enact advice from these health education campaigns remains underexplored. This study examines structural vulnerabilities that constrain PWUD as they attempt to implement OEND program advice.
METHODS: Data were drawn from an ethnographic study of “Satellite Sites”, a program where PWUD are employed by a community health center to operate satellite harm reduction programs within their homes. Data collection included participant observation within the Satellite Sites, complemented by semi-structured interviews and a focus group with Satellite Site workers. Thematic analysis was used to explore impacts of responding to overdose.
RESULTS: OEND advice includes not injecting alone, carrying naloxone, and calling 911 if overdose occurs. The ability of Satellite Site workers to respond according to public health guidelines is complicated by contextual and structural factors, including a lack of supervised injection services, vulnerability to eviction, and continued criminalization of drug use. Participants described how responding to increasing numbers of overdoses was stressful, with stress compounded by their close relationships with those who were overdosing. These factors were impacting the willingness of Satellite Site workers to continue to supervise drug use.
CONCLUSION: OEND programs are essential and effective; however, they are a response to a crisis within a policy and legal environment framed by the criminalization of drug use. Efforts to expand access to complementary interventions, such as supervised injection services, safer supply interventions, and protection against evictions, are necessary to complement OEND programs and address multiple contextual factors within the risk environment for overdose. Additionally, criminalization will continue to impede and constrain the public health response to drug use.

‘It's too much, I'm getting really tired of it’: Overdose response and structural vulnerabilities among harm reduction workers in community settings

‘It's too much, I'm getting really tired of it’: Overdose response and structural vulnerabilities among harm reduction workers in community settings (398)

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