UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Results of a participatory needs assessment demonstrate an opportunity to involve people who use alcohol in drug user activism and harm reduction Crabtree, Alexis; Latham, Nicole; Bird, Lorna; Buxton, Jane


Background Drug users’ organizations have made progress in recent years in advocating for the health and human rights of people who use illicit drugs but have historically not emphasized the needs of people who drink alcohol. Methods This paper reports on a qualitative participatory needs assessment with people who use illicit substances in British Columbia, Canada. We held workshops in 17 communities; these were facilitated by people who use illicit drugs, recorded with ethnographic fieldnotes, and analyzed using critical theory. Results Although the workshops were targeted to people who use illicit drugs, people who primarily consume alcohol also attended. An unexpected finding was the potential for drug users’ organizations and other harm reduction programs to involve “illicit drinkers”: people who drink non-beverage alcohol (e.g. mouthwash, rubbing alcohol) and those who drink beverage alcohol in criminalized ways (e.g., homeless drinkers). Potential points of alliance between these groups are common priorities (specifically, improving treatment by health professionals and the police, expanding housing options, and implementing harm reduction services), common values (reducing surveillance and improving accountability of services), and polysubstance use. Conclusions Despite these potential points of alliance, there has historically been limited involvement of illicit drinkers in drug users’ activism. Possible barriers to involvement of illicit drinkers in drug users’ organizations include racism (as discourses around alcohol use are highly racialized), horizontal violence, the extreme marginalization of illicit drinkers, and knowledge gaps around harm reduction for alcohol. Understanding the commonalities between people who use drugs and people who use alcohol, as well as the potential barriers to alliance between them, may facilitate the greater involvement of illicit drinkers in drug users’ organizations and harm reduction services.

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Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)