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ID: 393

Type of submission: Oral

Conference track: Research

Topics: Aboriginal Communities and Harm Reduction; Harm Reduction Advocacy and Activism

Presenting author: Elmer Azak

Presenting author biography:

Am Willa Willina. I am Nisga'a Eagle from the House of Laah (Eagle House). I have lived in Vancouver, BC since 1992. I serve on the Board of Directors for the Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society. I play, volunteer, and work for the betterment of my community, the Downtown Eastside.

"Wish I could find a treatment center who could understand my past and understand me": Aboriginal peoples' experiences accessing addictions treatment

Elmer Azak, Martin Steward, Martin Johnson, Keith Olson, Kim Fleming, Ashley Goodman, Thomas Kerr, The Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society

Background: A history of colonization and related-trauma suffered by Aboriginal peoples continues to have devastating health and social effects. One response to this suffering is observed in increased rates of substance use among Aboriginal peoples. Despite such inequalities, Aboriginal peoples remain understudied in addiction treatment research. Our research aimed to explore the experiences of accessing treatment among Aboriginal peoples who use illicit drugs and/or alcohol (APWUID/A) living in Vancouver’s inner city.

Methodology: This research was led by the Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society in collaboration with the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS. Using Indigenous methodologies, Aboriginal peer researchers led the study design, and data collection and analysis. Peers facilitated a series of talking circles to explore community members’ experiences of accessing treatment services. In total, 65 APWUID/A participated.

Findings: Substance use was described within the context of emotional and physical pain, and trauma. Addressing trauma was seen as a necessary component of treatment and fundamental to individual recovery. Reported barriers in existing services included lack of patient autonomy, social isolation from support systems, lack of physicians trained in addictions medicine, long waiting times, and a lack of accessible detox treatment services resulting in adverse experiences of withdrawal without professional medical support. Recommendations included better integration of stages of treatment to facilitate transitions between detox to other types of treatment, and between completion of treatment and re-integration into community. Participants called for culture-based treatment, which adopts a harm reduction approach and emphasizes the role of social support.

Conclusion: For Aboriginal peoples, addictions treatment must adopt a holistic approach to consider the role of culture, social support, and individual and intergenerational trauma to recovery. Furthermore, individuals must be supported throughout their recovery journey by integrating services and supporting harm reduction approaches.