FILE PHOTO: A drug overdose may have caused a multi-vehicle crash in Langley. Curtis Kreklau South Fraser News Services

Pay drug users for expertise, insight to deal with overdose crisis: B.C. report

The BC Centre for Disease Control released the report Wednesday

Drug users are often the first responders to an overdose and should be paid fairly for their contributions to research, service delivery and overdose prevention activities, says a report.

The BC Centre for Disease Control released the report Wednesday, based on input from a meeting last June of 160 people including drug users, law enforcement personnel, the province’s mental health and addictions minister, researchers and the medical community.

The report is aimed at health authorities and other organizations to consult and ultimately empower so-called peers who have past or present experience with substance use as experts who can provide insights into the applicability of policies and programs, such as harm-reduction services.

Vancouver Coastal Health, for example, has contracted RainCity Housing to run its peer support program in the Downtown Eastside. Jobs include outreach and support work, drug checking and leading counselling services.

RELATED: Involve Indigenous drug users in finding solutions to B.C.’s OD crisis: report

Karen Ward, a longtime cocaine user who attended the gathering in June, was consulted for the centre’s report and said drug users’ knowledge has been vastly undervalued.

“A friend of mine trains the new employees who then go off to be her boss,” Ward said of an employee who works at an overdose prevention site.

“It’s empowering, definitely, but it is tokenizing. You can see that in the inconsistency in pay and the ad hoc nature of the arrangements.”

Drug users may have to form associations or unions to work on getting proper protections, said Ward, a former secretary of the board for the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users.

“Just the consciousness of understanding themselves as workers is a new thing,” she said.

Marion Allaart, executive director of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, said some people who work at the organization’s overdose prevention site earn $7 per hour but it has decided to pay them more while awaiting action from the employer.

She said it’s often challenging to hire people who continue to use drugs because they sometimes fail to show up for their shifts.

“Some people have been addicted since they were 14. We have an aging population in the Downtown Eastside and that makes a difference to how successful they can be.”

Mentors are crucial to provide support for workers who live with complex issues and expectations beyond what they can deliver, Allaart said.

The BC Centre for Disease Control’s report calls for payment standards across the province, along with stable and fair employment to ensure a good quality of life and support for the rights of workers.

RELATED: First Nations people in B.C. three times more likely to die of overdose

The centre has already outlined payment standards with recommendations, including a $25 per hour payment for meetings, reviewing documents and providing an advisory role; $30 per hour for a peer who works as a meeting support worker; $50 per hour for a presentation; and for other tasks, at least the B.C. living wage, which amounts to nearly $21 per hour in Vancouver.

Its report released in February included feedback from peers, who said they did not want to be paid by cheque or a coupon and asked for an honorarium for attending meetings of drug users.

The report released Wedneday says involvement of Indigenous drug users, who are overrepresented in the overdose crisis, should be encouraged.

“Be more inclusive of Indigenous perspectives, both within and outside of our organizations, through meaningful engagement during the planning process and follow-up for events and activities,” it says.

Ward said she agrees with Dr. Mark Tyndall, the centre’s executive medical director, who believes a safer drug supply is needed with the reform of outdated drug laws to prevent overdoses in the first place.

“I talk to folks all over the country who are tying to set up (overdose prevention) sites and are working in them all the time. We need these desperately to keep people alive but these are not the solution to anything. These are salves, not a remedy,” she said.

“People need to find a way to live rather than just not die.”

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Shaela Dansereau/ The Pipestone Flyer
City of Wetaskiwin cases rapidly climbing

City of Wetaskiwin reporting 11 active cases of COVID-19

Photo submitted/ Rita-anne Fuss
Distancing Diamond Project in Millet for mental health

Distancing Diamonds allow for social distancing community gathering.

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, confirmed more than 1,000 cases over the weekend Monday afternoon. File photo
COVID-19: Central zone active cases up Monday

‘We’ve now crossed the tipping point,’ says Hinshaw

The death of 19-year-old Jacob Michael Chitze of Edmonton has now been ruled a homicide following an ongoing RCMP investigation.
UPDATE: RCMP arrest youth for second degree murder of 19-year-old Jacob Chitze

Arrest made for the murder of Jacob Michael Chitze, 19.

Wetaskiwin Hospital staff join AUPE walk outs across the province Monday Oct. 26, 2020. Shaela Dansereau/ The Pipestone Flyer.
City of Wetaskiwin health-care workers strike in protest of province-wide cuts

Wetaskiwin Hospital staff join other front line hospital workers across the province in walk-outs.

Cases in Ponoka (East Ponoka County) as of Oct. 27. (alberta.ca)
Diagnosed cases of COVID-19 at three Ponoka businesses

Town ‘strongly encouraging’ residents to wear non-medical masks in public

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID pandemic during a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau says pandemic ‘really sucks,’ and that Christmas gatherings are up in the air

The prime minister encouraged residents to continue to follow the advice of local health authorities

The Williams Lake Indian Band is stipulating no-go zones for mushroom picking in areas burned by last summer’s wildfires. 100 Mile Free Press photo
Who controls mushroom harvesting on Indigenous lands?

‘We don’t necessarily know where the mushrooms grow, how old the stands need to be, those types of things.’

Canadian and American flags fly near the Ambassador Bridge at the Canada/USA border crossing in Windsor, Ont. on Saturday, March 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rob Gurdebeke
U.S. election results one factor that could impact immigration to Canada next year

The survey polled 1,523 Canadians between Oct. 23 and Oct. 25

Alberta’s provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, Monday July 6, 2020. The Alberta government is hoping to get more Albertans employed by moving to limit the number and type of temporary foreign workers it allows into the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Alberta to limit temporary foreign worker program to save jobs for Albertans

Temporary foreign workers already in the province won’t be affected

(Emily Jaycox/Bashaw Star)
Wreath laying ceremony held in Manfred, Alta.

Ceremony marks 64th anniversary of Hungarian revolution, honours settlers

Submitted
Montana First Nations councillor gives back to youth

By Chevi Rabbit For Ponoka News Reggie Rabbit is a newly elected… Continue reading

Royal Alexandra Hospital front-line workers walk a picket line after walking off the job in a wildcat strike in Edmonton, on Monday, October 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta labour board orders health-care staff who walked off the job to go back to work

Finance Minister Travis Toews said in a news release that he was pleased with the labour board’s decision

Most Read