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  • Damon Tarrant

Peer Workers: A Quick Introduction

Updated: Mar 14, 2021

* This is not a formal academic piece of writing; thus, it cannot be cited or used in anyway! Please, if you would like more information or to see where I got mine, refer to the bottom of the post!

Why did I select this topic?

Drug policy in Canada has a long history of racism and marginalization, a history I did not know about until I came to SFU. When I first learned about the history of Canada's first drug laws that occurred in 1908 because of an anti-Asian immigrant workers riot here in Vancouver, I found myself very interested in learning more about drug policy in Canada. However, today more than ever, we are seeing drastic impacts of unclean and toxic drugs on the market and a drug policy that cannot keep up or help people who use drugs to the level necessary. This is why people who use drugs offer essential insight into the challenges this community faces and how to challenge current policy to better society and save lives.

Who are PEER workers, and why they should have direct involvement in policy?

Peer workers/researchers are typically people with lived or living experience with drug use. What this means is that they have used drugs in the past, or continue to use drugs today. Peer workers/researchers represent a unique opportunity for drug policy and drug policy research to capture a fuller scope of the challenges people who use drugs may face during any/all point(s) of their use. Having Peer workers involved in research and drug policy allows politicians and researchers to increase the validity of their projects and policies by ensuring that the marginalized community can guide the work they do to create real, tangible social change. Additionally, researchers like Alissa Greer here at Simon Fraser University have found that it can develop trust between people who use drugs and policymakers, permitting them to address the challenges that people who use drugs face (2016).

What is Harm Reduction? How do Peer workers help us as a society challenge the problem we are currently facing?

Harm Reduction is a strategy to help people who use drugs and reduce the dangers that can be involved with drug use. Harm Reduction works through multiple different practices and services ranging from needle distribution and safe consumption sites to outreach and education. Peer engagement gives researchers and politicians insight into where Harm Reduction can change to further benefit marginalized communities, and ensure that drug policy reflects current needs. People who use drugs face systemic barriers that prevents them from access to harm reduction, such as a complete lack of harm reduction services in their communities, the stigma associated with drug use, and the stigma involved with the harm reduction facilities themselves. Which ultimately discourages and prevents people who use drugs from going to, and using these services. Thus, people who use drugs are a critical juncture in our drug policy system and harm reduction services; they give people without lived or living experience an opportunity to better understand and target the systemic barriers that further marginalize and oppress this community. All we have to do is listen.

What are some of the challenges that Peer workers face?

This can be a complicated and long answer that has a lot of different perspectives that people do not often think about. However, for space and time, I'm only going to highlight one. Peer workers, while providing expert information and hard work, often go either unpaid or paid very little; thus, it is crucial that future research and policy missions that work with people who use drugs ensure they are getting an expert-level payment because often they provide insight and experience that furthers the project, and may not have been accurately captured by policymakers or researchers!

Where I got my information and where you can get more!

Richardson, Jeff., & Rosenberg, Linda (N.d). Peer support workers in emergency departments: engaging individuals surviving the opioid overdoses – qualitative assessment. National Council for Behavioural Health. Found at:

Greer, A. M., Luchenski, S. A., Amlani, A. A., Lacroix, K., Burmeister, C., & Buxton, J. A. (2016). Peer engagement in harm reduction strategies and services: A critical case study and evaluation framework from British Columbia, Canada. BMC Public Health, 16(1), 452.

Greer, A. M., Amlani, A., Pauly, B., Burmeister, C., & Buxton, J. A. (2018). Participant, peer and PEEP: Considerations and strategies for involving people who have used illicit substances as assistants and advisors in research. BMC Public Health, 18(1), 834.

BC Centre for Disease Control: Peer Engagement

BC Centre for Disease Control: Harm Reduction Guidelines

BC Coroners Service: Illicit Drug Toxicity Deaths in BC January 1, 2010 – September 30, 2020

Bardwell, G., Kerr, T., Boyd, J., & McNeil, R. (2018). Characterizing peer roles in an overdose crisis: Preferences for peer workers in overdose response programs in emergency shelters. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 190, 6–8.

BCCDC Harm Reduction Services: Toward the heart

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