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Qualitative Evaluation of the Impact of Decriminalization on People Who Use Drugs (PWUD)

PI: Dr. Jürgen Rehm, Institute of Mental Health Policy Research, CAMH, ON and Ontario CRISM Node Team (OCRINT)

Co-PI: Dr. Farihah Ali, Institute of Mental Health Policy Research, CAMH, ON and Ontario CRISM Node Team (OCRINT)

Project Lead: Ms. Cayley Russell, Institute of Mental Health Policy Research, CAMH, ON and Ontario CRISM Node Team (OCRINT)

Working Group: Dr. Geoff Bardwell (University of Waterloo); Dr. Jade Boyd (University of British Columbia and British Columbia Centre on Substance Use); Dr. Elaine Hyshka (University of Alberta and Inner City Health and Wellness Program);  Matt Bonn (Canadian AIDS Society); Kali Sedgemore (Coalition of Peers Dismantling the Drug War and British Columbia Centre on Substance Use)


To gain an in-depth understanding of the impacts of the decriminalization policy on people who use drugs (PWUD) in British Columbia, we will undertake a total of four qualitative assessments, spread out over five years. For each assessment, we will seek to recruit a new cohort of participants each time in recognizing the potential for high participant attrition as well as to capture diverse PWUD substance use profiles and patterns. We will ensure that our sample of PWUD are representative of diverse patterns of use, lifestyles, and location.  Recruitment will be facilitated through support from OCRINT’s established connections with relevant health organizations and community-based advocacy groups throughout British Columbia and through the circulation of posters and flyers on social media networks and posted at relevant health service organizations. 

The interview guides will be developed in collaboration with the working group, including PWUD, to ensure the appropriateness and completeness of questions. The main indicators we will examine through the qualitative interviews include:

  • Awareness of available community harm reduction and treatment services

  • Accessibility of harm reduction and treatment services

  • Harm reduction and treatment service engagement and retention

  • Stigmatization-related barriers to accessing harm reduction and treatment services

  • Criminalization-related barriers (e.g., fear of criminalization) to accessing harm reduction and treatment services

  • Interactions between police and PWUD (including experiences with police officers and whether or to what extent they apply harm reduction and anti-stigma approaches)

  • Experiences with seizures, arrests, charges, and criminal records for personal possession, for trafficking, for drug-adjacent crimes, for other more serious crimes (e.g., up-charging or net widening)

  • Overall health and social well-being (e.g., employment, housing, quality of life)

  • Substance use patterns and behaviors (e.g., types of substances used, prices, purity, accessibility, availability, mode of administration/consumption, commonly purchased/carried amounts)

  • Perceptions of the decriminalization policy and its impacts



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