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Pushing the point

Interdisciplinary peer training and overdose prevention

Research |

By Moira Baird

Newfoundland and Labrador has a lot of catching up to do when it comes to developing harm reduction policies and programs, as well as carrying out critical drugs studies research involving people who use substances.

Dr. Christopher Smith, assistant professor in the School of Social Work, aims to change that with a new Research Exchange Group he founded through the Newfoundland and Labrador Centre for Applied Health Research that began meeting in July 2015.

The interdisciplinary, inter-sectoral, user-centred group is helping identify policy-relevant research priorities related to substance use, harm reduction and addiction treatment services across Newfoundland and Labrador.

The group consists of academics, policy-makers, front-line public health service providers and people with direct experience of substance use, past or present.

Meaningful impact

Dr. Smith’s policy-driven scholarship seeks to make a meaningful impact on the every day lives of people who use drugs, with the hope of situating Newfoundland and Labrador as a Canadian leader in harm reduction practice and drug policy reform.

“There is no precedent for a group of this nature in Newfoundland and Labrador.” –Dr. Christopher Smith

His primary goal is to ensure those who use drugs are involved in research and policy-making.

Conducting needs assessment

Dr. Smith has assembled a large multidisciplinary research team, including researchers from the Faculty of Medicine, School of Nursing and School of Social Work, and has met a multitude of community partners. These include Eastern Health, the Department of Health and Community Services, THRIVE, Street Reach, Choices for Youth, Stella’s Circle, the Safe Harbour Outreach Project and the AIDS Committee of Newfoundland and Labrador, which will serve as the primary project partner.

The team is conducting a needs assessment of injection drug users in the greater St. John’s region. Dr. Smith says data collected as part of this large-scale, community engagement assessment would be useful for the development of new harm reduction programs.

The second project involves the development of a “peer training” program that will enable people with lived experience of substance use to become actively involved in the provision of harm reduction services, and, eventually, other aspects of harm reduction policy and practice such as outreach, research, evaluation and policy development/implementation.

Saving lives

There’s plenty of work to do. But Dr. Smith’s goal is the creation of an independent, user-run, user-led organization in St. John’s that will serve as a source of empowerment among people who use drugs. Currently there’s no such organization in this region of Canada.

The intent is to create opportunities for past or present people who use drugs to train researchers, policy-makers and front-line social service providers and, in turn, help save lives.

Since January 2016, Dr. Smith has published two books related to his research: Addiction, Modernity, and the City: A Users’ Guide to Urban Space and Critical Approaches to Harm Reduction: Conflict, Institutionalization, (De-)Politicization, and Direct Action, which he co-edited with Zack Marshall, a Canadian Institutes of Health Research Fellow and doctoral candidate in the Division of Community Health and Humanities in the Faculty of Medicine. Dr. Smith wrote the book’s preface and contributed one of the 11 chapters, which includes contributions from leading researchers in the fields of public health, history, epidemiology and sociology from areas including Canada, the United States and Portugal.

Tree Walsh, harm reduction manager, AIDS Committee of Newfoundland and Labrador

Zack Marshall, PhD candidate and CIHR Fellow, Division of Community Health and Humanities, Faculty of Medicine

Newfoundland and Labrador Centre for Applied Health Research

AIDS Committee of Newfoundland and Labrador

This article is part of a bi-weekly collection of research profiles celebrating the contributions of Memorial researchers. Be sure to check back for future profiles.

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