Gendered violence and overdose prevention sites: a rapid ethnographic study during an overdose epidemic in Vancouver, Canada [2018]

Background and Aims
North America’s overdose epidemic is increasingly driven by fentanyl and fentanyl‐adulterated drugs. Supervised consumption sites, including low‐threshold models (termed overdose prevention sites; OPS), are now being debated in the United States and implemented in Canada. Despite evidence that gendered and racialized violence shape access to harm reduction among women who use drugs (WWUD), this has not been examined in relation to OPS and amid the overdose epidemic. This study explores how overlapping epidemics of overdose and gendered and racialized violence in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, one of North America’s overdose epicenters, impacts how marginalized WWUD experience OPS.

Qualitative analysis using rapid ethnographic fieldwork. Data collection included 185 hours of naturalistic observation and in‐depth interviews; data were analyzed thematically using NVivo.

Vancouver, Canada.

Thirty‐five WWUD recruited from three OPS.

Participants’ experiences of OPS and the public health emergency.

The rapid onset and severity of intoxication associated with the use of fentanyl‐adulterated drugs in less regulated drug use settings not only amplified WWUD’s vulnerability to overdose death but also violence. Participants characterized OPS as safer spaces to consume drugs in contrast to less regulated settings, and accommodation of assisted injections and injecting partnerships was critical to increasing OPS access among WWUD. Peer‐administered injections disrupted gendered power relations to allow women increased control over their drug use; however, participants indicated that OPS were also gendered and racialized spaces that jeopardized some women’s access.

Although women who use drugs in Vancouver, Canada appear to feel that overdose prevention sites address forms of everyday violence made worse by the overdose epidemic, these sites remain ‘masculine spaces’ that can jeopardize women’s access.

Jade Boyd Alexandra B. Collins Samara Mayer Lisa Maher Thomas Kerr Ryan McNeil

Addiction, Volume 113, Issue 12, December 2018