Substance use and overdose risk: documenting the perspectives of formerly incarcerated persons in the Fraser East region of BC McCaughran-Contreras, Celine; Fernando, Saranee; Sikora, Mike; Hawkins, Jennifer; Kniseley, Marinel; Snyder, Daniel; Long, Connie; Robson, James; Slaunwhite, Amanda; Salmon, Amy
Background The relationship between incarceration and risk of overdose has been well-documented in the literature, but few studies document the perspectives of persons at risk of overdose who were incarcerated. This sub-inquiry aimed to understand the experiences of persons with a history of substance use and incarceration in the Fraser East region of BC and how involvement with the criminal justice system affected their drug use and perceived risk of overdose. Methods The Fraser East Overdose Response project utilized a community-based participatory action approach that included peer researchers with lived experience in all parts of the research process. This qualitative pilot study aimed to better understand individuals at risk of an unwitnessed overdose in order to prevent deaths and identify effective local responses. A snowball sampling technique was used to recruit persons aged 19 and over who used illicit drugs over the past 3 years in the Fraser East since 2016. In total, 22 participants were interviewed. Of these, 13 participants identified a history of incarceration. Interviews were analyzed using a framework analysis approach. Results The perspectives that participants shared revealed that impacts from incarceration are influenced by policies but also highly individualized. Our inquiry found three broader themes, within which were situated differing and sometimes conflicting interpretations and experiences of systemic environments: (1) incarceration was associated with harms and was perceived to increase risk of overdose following release, (2) incarceration was perceived to have limited impact on substance use and overdose risk, and (3) incarceration was associated with a perceived reduction of substance use and overdose risk. Conclusions Understanding the complexities of the perceptions of those with lived experience of substance use and incarceration is of importance to better inform interventions in this population. The existing knowledge base urgently requires further inquiry into the intersections between qualitative perspectives, environments and policies, and quantitative outcomes of overdose vís-a-vís correctional institution.
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