A UTSC study, in partnership and with the leadership of Elevate Northwestern Ontario (Elevate NWO) and the Ontario Aboriginal HIV/AIDS Strategy (Oahas), that will assess the harm reduction services in three Northern Ontario cities has received a federal grant.
The Walking for Harm Reduction through Street Engagement (WHiSE) project will take place over a period of two years in Thunder Bay, Sudbury, and Sault Ste. Marie.
It aims to examine the harm reduction approaches used by Indigenous people who use substances, the demand for such services as what sort of features are desired by the people using the programs. The project will also measure the sexually-transmitted and blood-borne infections and substance use rates in the cities.
The project, led by Department of Health and Society Professor Anita Benoit, has received a grant of nearly $1m from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. She will be working with co-principal applicants Meghan Young, Executive Director at Oahas, and Holly Gauvin, Executive Director at Elevate NWO.
“It’s very important to conduct research that has been identified as a priority by Indigenous peoples who provide harm reduction services and have lived experience of substance use,” said Prof. Benoit. “They know what they need and can increase the real-world impact of the research when engaged.”
Harm Reduction refers to policies, programmes and practices aimed at minimizing the health effects stemming from drug use. The study’s objectives stem from the priorities of Indigenous people who provide harm reduction services and Indigenous people who access those services. The project is guided by a team of largely Indigenous people who conduct health research, provide and access harm reduction and health services, or do both.
Thunder Bay has a disproportionately large population of people who inject drugs (PWID) facing ongoing challenges related to substance use which includes a high proportion of street-affected Indigenous people. However, Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie, have received less study, and the team aims to use experience gained with previous work in Thunder Bay to get to the heart of what Indigenous PWID want and need in terms of harm reduction in these cities too.
The project will use qualitative and quantitative research techniques including surveys and interviews to engage with community members. The team will also aim to hire Indigenous people living in the three cities to work as Research Assistants and a Research Coordinator, and Indigenous peers who have current or past lived experiences of substance use.