Globally, engaging people who have used drugs, or peers, in decision-making has been increasingly touted as a best practice approach to developing priorities, programs, and policies. Peer engagement ensures decisions are relevant, appropriate, and effective to the affected community. However, ensuring that inclusion is accessible and equitable for those involved remains a challenge. In this study, we examined the perspectives of people who use or have used illicit drugs (PWUD) on peer engagement in health and harm reduction settings across British Columbia (BC), Canada.
The Peer Engagement and Evaluation Project used a participatory approach to conducting 13 peer-facilitated focus groups (n = 83) across BC. Focus group data were coded and analyzed with five peer research assistants. Themes about the nature of peer engagement were generated. From this analysis, peer engagement barriers and enablers were identified.
Barriers to peer engagement included individual, geographical, systemic, and social factors. Issues related to stigma, confidentiality, and mistrust were intensely discussed among participants. Being “outed” in one’s community was a barrier to engagement, particularly in rural areas. Participants voiced that compensation, setting, and the right people help facilitate and motivate engagement. Peer networks are an essential ingredient to engagement by promoting support and advocacy.
PWUD are important stakeholders in decisions that affect them. This cross-jurisdictional study investigated how PWUD have experienced engagement efforts in BC, identifying several factors that influence participation. Meaningful engagement can be facilitated by attention to communication, relationships, personal capacity, and compassion between peers and other professionals.