UBC Faculty Research and Publications

“Running myself ragged”: stressors faced by peer workers in overdose response settings Mamdani, Zahra; McKenzie, Sophie; Pauly, Bernadette; Cameron, Fred; Conway-Brown, Jennifer; Edwards, Denice; Howell, Amy; Scott, Tracy; Seguin, Ryan; Woodrow, Peter; et al.


Background: Peer workers or “peers” (workers with past or present drug use experience) are at the forefront of overdose response initiatives, and their role is essential in creating safe spaces for people who use drugs (PWUD). Working in overdose response settings has benefits for peer workers but is also stressful, with lasting emotional and mental health effects. Yet, little is known about the stressors peer workers face and what interventions can be implemented to support them in their roles. Methods: This project used a community-based sequential mixed-methods research design. Eight peer researcher-led focus groups (n = 31) were conducted between November 2018 and March 2019 to assess needs of peer workers. The transcripts were thematically coded and analysed using interpretative description. These results informed a survey, which was conducted (n = 50) in September 2019 to acquire quantitative data on peer workers’ perception of health, quality of life, working conditions and stressors. Frequency distributions were used to describe characteristics of participants. X2 distribution values with Yates correction were conducted to check for association between variables. Results: Five themes emerged from the focus groups that point to stressors felt by peer workers: (1) financial insecurity; (2) lack of respect and recognition at work; (3) housing challenges; (4) inability to access and/or refer individuals to resources; and (5) constant exposure to death and trauma. Consistent with this, the factors that survey participants picked as one of their “top three stressors” included financial situation, work situation, and housing challenges. Conclusion: Peer workers are faced with a diversity of stressors in their lives which often reflect societal stigmatization of drug use. Recognition of these systemic stressors is critical in designing interventions to ease the emotional, physical and financial burden faced by peer workers.

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