In Canada, and elsewhere, indigenous peoples who use illicit drugs and/or alcohol (IPWUID/A) commonly experience vulnerability and a disproportionate burden of harm related to substance use. In Vancouver, Canada, there are concerns that inequitable access, retention, and post treatment care within substance use treatment programs may exacerbate these harms. This study sought to understand the policies and practices with the potential to produce inequities and vulnerabilities for IPWUID/A in substance use treatment, situate the vulnerabilities of IPWUID/A in substance use treatment within the context of wider structural vulnerability of IPWUID/A, and generate recommendations for culturally safe treatment options.
This research employed a qualitative indigenous-led community-based approach using the indigenous methodology of talking circles to explore experiences with substance use treatment. Under the participatory research framework, community researchers led the study design, data collection, and analysis. Talking circles elicited peers’ experiences of substance use treatment and were audio-recorded and transcribed.
The talking circles identified three key themes that illustrated the experiences of IPWUID/A when accessing substance use treatment: (a) barriers to accessing detox and substance use treatment; (b) incompatible and culturally inappropriate structure, policies, and procedures within treatment programs, such as forced Christianity within treatment settings; and (c) the importance of culturally relevant, peer-led substance use treatment programming.
Our work demonstrates that some IPWUID/A have limited access to or retention in mainstream treatment due to excessive waiting times, strict rules, and lack of cultural appropriate care while in treatment. However, IPWUID/A narratives revealed strategies that can improve IPWUID/A access and experiences, including those informed by the diverse perspectives of IPWUID/A and those that include trauma-informed and culturally safe practices.