UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Hoots and harm reduction: a qualitative study identifying gaps in overdose prevention among women who smoke drugs Bardwell, Geoff; Austin, Tamar; Maher, Lisa; Boyd, Jade

Abstract

Background: Smoking or inhaling illicit drugs can lead to a variety of negative health outcomes, including overdose. However, most overdose prevention interventions, such as supervised consumption services (SCS), prohibit inhalation. In addition, women are underrepresented at SCS and are disproportionately impacted by socio-structural violence. This study examines women’s experiences smoking illicit drugs during an overdose epidemic, including their utilization of a women-only supervised inhalation site. Methods: Qualitative research methods included on-site ethnographic observation and semi-structured interviews with 32 participants purposively recruited from the women-only site. Data were coded and analyzed using NVivo 12 and thematic analysis was informed by gendered and socio-structural understandings of violence. Results: Participants had preferences for smoking drugs and these were shaped by their limited income, inability to inject, and perceptions of overdose risk. Participants expressed the need for services that attend to women’s specific experiences of gendered, race-based, and structural violence faced within and outside mixed-gender social service settings. Results indicate a need for sanctioned spaces that recognize polysubstance use and drug smoking, accommodated by the women-only SCS. The smoking environment further fostered a sociability where participants could engage in perceived harm reduction through sharing drugs with other women/those in need and were able to respond in the event of an overdose. Conclusions: Findings demonstrate the ways in which gendered social and structural environments shape women’s daily experiences using drugs and the need for culturally appropriate interventions that recognize diverse modes of consumption while attending to overdose and violence. Women-only smoking spaces can provide temporary reprieve from some socio-structural harms and build collective capacity to practice harm reduction strategies, including overdose prevention. Women-specific SCS with attention to polysubstance use are needed as well as continued efforts to address the socio-structural harms experienced by women who smoke illicit drugs.

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Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

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