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ID: 183

Type of submission: Oral

Conference track: Practice

Topics: Aboriginal Communities and Harm Reduction

Presenting author: Emily Jones

Presenting author biography:

Emily Jones is the Harm Reduction & Wellness Counselor for Blood Ties Four Directions Centre. Emily manages the fixed site harm reduction program, including the first naloxone distribution pilot project in northern Canada. She also facilities the low barrier drop in center for those vulnerable to HIV or Hepatitis C.

Four years of delivering Drug User Group in northern remote Canada; what we've learned & best practices

Emily Jones

In the Northern regions of Canada, the prevalent intervention methods used for working with people who use drugs (injection and inhalation) are abstinent based treatment or incarceration. The majority of people using drugs in Whitehorse are from remote Indigenous communities. Our aim was to create a safe space for drug users to discuss their experiences with using, which was a non-existent approach in the northern regions. This group was developed to empower, educate, and establish leaders within the drug using community.

Whitehorse, Yukon, is a small isolated city in northern Canada and serves as a hub for surrounding Indigenous communities. The common drugs used are crack cocaine and prescribed opioids (morphine, fentanyl, codeine). Drug users previously had no meaningful network or connection with each other to discuss safe drug use and other correlated issues, including but not limited to: discrimination, violence and communicable diseases.

The Drug User Group (DUG) was implemented in 2012. We launched DUG to move away from the notion of ‘professional to client education’ surrounding harm reduction and move towards a peer support model which creates leadership opportunities. This presentation will illustrate the best practices we found when launching a Drug User Group in a remote setting such as: time of day, stipend, developing a sense of ownership and retaining members.

Over the past 4 years we have seen a steady increased of participants each year. DUG has proven to assist in reducing stigma and having a forum for people to become more empowered and educated. Individuals who were very marginalized and vulnerable began attending DUG regularly and became more connected to services. As service providers, we have gained insight and knowledge that we were able to transfer to other harm reduction services.