‘It’s more about the heroin’: Injection drug users’ response to an overdose warning campaign in a Canadian setting

Department of Medicine, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada.
Addiction (Impact Factor: 4.74). 03/2013; 108(7). DOI: 10.1111/add.12151
Source: PubMed


AIMS: To assess heroin injectors' perceptions of and responses to a warning issued by public health officials regarding high-potency heroin and increases in fatal overdoses. DESIGN: Semi-structured qualitative interviews. SETTING: Vancouver, Canada. PARTICIPANTS: Eighteen active heroin injectors. MEASUREMENTS: Semi-structured interview guide focussing on heroin injectors' perceptions of and responses to the overdose warning, including reasons for failing to adhere to risk reduction recommendations. FINDINGS: Although nearly all participants were aware of the warning, their recollections of the message and the timing of its release were obscured by on-going social interactions within the drug scene focussed on heroin quality. Many injection drug users reported seeking the high potency heroin and nearly all reported no change in overdose risk behaviours. Responses to the warning were shaped by various social, economic and structural forces that interacted with individual behaviour and undermined efforts to promote behavioural change, including sales tactics employed by dealers, poverty, the high cost and shifting quality of available heroin, and risks associated with income-generating activities. Individual-level factors, including emotional suffering, withdrawal, entrenched injecting routines, perceived invincibility and the desire for intense intoxication also undermined risk reduction messages. CONCLUSIONS: Among heroin injectors in British Columbia, a 2011 overdose warning campaign appeared to be of limited effectiveness and also produced unintended negative consequences that exacerbated overdose risk.

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    • "The warnings alerted people who use drugs (PWUD) to the high potency of heroin that had become available in these settings (Kerr et al., 2013; Miller, 2007). Among PWUD managing drug dependence in the context of extreme poverty, the warnings were found to be ineffective at preventing harm, and, in some instances, prompted them to seek out substances able to provide a more potent high (Baljak, Greer, Amlani, Sampson & Buxton, 2015; Freeman & French, 1995; Kerr et al., 2013; Miller, 2007). Recent research in Vancouver, Canada exploring PWUD's perceptions of illicit drug overdose warnings similarly found that effective drug alerts must be clear, simple, and avoid language highlighting drug potency (Baljak et al., 2015). "

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    • "108). In fact, there have been numerous public warnings regarding heroin-related deaths in Vancouver (Kerr et al., 2013). In addition to overdose deaths, there are numerous costs to the health care, criminal justice, and welfare systems when dealing with the numerous challenges that opioid and heroin users pose for the government (Gartry, Oviedo-Joekes, Laliberte, & Schechter, 2009). "
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