Ben Scher

Examining the lived experience of accessing enhanced harm reduction: insights from two overdose prevention centres in Vancouver

Background: As drug-related deaths continue to rise in the UK, innovative harm reduction solutions are being explored. Having conducted a feasibility study examining the need and potential applicability of an overdose prevention centre (OPC) in the West Midlands, the second paper of my PhD explores two examples in Vancouver of existing OPC models: (1) a community-centre based OPC; and (2) a low-barrier housing OPC.

Methods: This study employed rapid-ethnographic methods. Modes of data collection at each site included: five weeks of participant observation; one community consultation; five focus groups with a total of 25 service users; 20 one-on-one interviews with service users; and 15 interviews with staff and management.

Results: Leaning on the data collected, as well as my own ethnographic observations, this qualitative study captures the role that varying OPC models can have not only in saving lives but also in facilitating engagement between harm reduction services, auxiliary health and housing services, and marginalised people who use drugs. Exploring themes such as ‘increased sense of belonging’, ‘increased safety around overdose events’, ‘unique value of peer workers’, and ‘improved relationships between staff and service users’, this study also highlights potential challenges in operating low-barrier harm reduction models.

Conclusions: By drawing on and exploring the rich experiences of people in Vancouver who are able to access these two forms of enhanced harm reduction facilities, this study offers insights into considerations regarding the implementation of such services as they begin to emerge in the UK context.