UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The peer comic book project : illustrating peer workers’ experiences working throughout the overdose crisis in the suburban Lower Mainland McKenzie, Sophie


Several regions of North America and Europe are experiencing a devastating drug overdose epidemic. In Canada, the province of British Columbia (BC) has the highest death rates due to drug toxicity. Peer workers, people with lived and living experience with substance use who use that lived experience in their professional work, are at the frontlines of responding to the overdose crisis through roles such as peer-witnessing of substance use, outreach services, mobile overdose response, delivery and collection of harm reduction supplies, and advocacy. Whilst peer workers have been the subject of interdisciplinary scholarship which examines their utility to harm reduction initiatives and their workplace conditions, they have not yet been involved in arts-based collaborative projects. This thesis examines an arts-based collaboration rooted in tenets of Participatory Action Research (PAR) and Values-Based Cartooning in which I worked with three peer workers from the suburban Lower Mainland to create a series of graphic vignettes. The comic strips reflect peers’ experiences working throughout the overdose crisis within contexts of escalating street violence, deepening socioeconomic inequities, and pervasive instances of drug poisoning. I describe the intricacies of collaboration between an academic researcher and people who use(d) substances, including the effects of deeply entrenched power dynamics, processes of analysis and reflection, and the capacity of art-based projects to elicit nuanced manifestations of agency and power. This thesis describes both the strengths and downfalls of an arts-based collaboration and offers practical insights for future projects.

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