How to Involve People Who Use Drugs in Your Organization

    Advocates at the Drugs Research Network Scotland conference in Glasgow this week circulated a striking two-page pamphlet: “How to Involve People Who Use Drugs.”

    It’s intended to educate experts and organizations who want to involve directly impacted people in their work. Here are a few of the key takeaways:

    “We have a lot of experience,” the handout says, “so please:”

    DO invite several of us

    DO listen to our answers

    DON’T invite just one of us

    DON’T hand-pick always the same user you know and are comfortable with

    DON’T only invite people who formerly used drugs – it is OK to invite them and they have lots to offer, but they are not the same as people who are actively using drugs, who also have a perspective that is valuable and needs to be heard as well

    “We may not be used to your style of meetings so please:”

    DO show flexibility with meeting styles

    DON’T hold a meeting at 9am, or on welfare cheque issue day

    DON’T think that we cannot do more, such as work for you in a paid position

    “We are NOT very mobile or wealthy so please…”

    DO hold a meeting or consultation in a low-key setting or in a setting where users already hang out

    DON’T hold it in a government building

    DON’T assume that we don’t need an honorarium or would just spend it on drugs (or that it wouldn’t be justified even if we did)

    DO give us money in cash

    “We do value our privacy so please…”

    DO guarantee and protect confidentiality

    DON’T require disclosure of HIV or other health status

    “If you want us to travel please…”

    DO help with arranging methadone carries

    DO arrange for advice from a local person who uses drugs – drugs may be more dangerous in a different city and traveling puts us at risk

    Some of the tips—like “Don’t ask us to come and meet you in Ottawa”—are clearly specific to this group. And of course, it’s not the case that all people who use drugs are not “mobile” or “wealthy.”

    But these tips are a useful resource and conversation-starter for any organization seeking to capitalize ethically and effectively on drug users’ knowledge.

    The pamphlet was produced by “Toward the Heart,” a part of the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control dedicated to harm reduction, for an initiative aiming to “establish peer engagement as the norm in BC and expand the opportunities for voices of peers who have been missing from our table.” Their website offers a directory of harm reduction sites, naloxone training materials, and other resources for people who use drugs and professionals.


    Photo via The Poverty Truth Commission

    • Sarah is the co-founder and deputy editor of Filter.

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