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On Overdose Awareness Day, and every day, lived experience is at the heart of the response to dual public health emergencies

August 31 is International Overdose Awareness Day, a day to remember the lives that have been lost to overdose and to recognize the crucial role of people with lived and living experience of substance use in the response to the overdose crisis.
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​Today, August 31, is International Overdose Awareness Day. This year, the event falls during a particularly challenging time. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to shape daily life in B.C. and across the globe, we have seen a devastating increase in both fatal and non-fatal overdoses. 

July 2020 was the third consecutive month with over 170 overdose deaths in B.C.  With a highly toxic drug supply circulating in the province, the BCCDC encourages those who use substances to not use alone, buddy up and make sure someone can respond to an overdose if necessary, i.e. they have naloxone and wait until others have used before using themselves.  If possible, use an overdose prevention site. More information about COVID-19 and substance use is available here.

People with lived and living experience (PWLLE) of substance use play a crucial role in the response to the overdose crisis. Their perspectives on the realities of substance use, the impact of stigma, and access to health care are informing the response to the dual public health emergencies in B.C.

Since the overdose public health emergency was declared in B.C. four years ago, workers with lived and living experience have been at the forefront of the overdose response in B.C., working in overdose response environments to save lives and offer support. PWLLE are also key members of a number of BCCDC harm reduction initiatives, including:

  • The Peer 2 Peer Project, which develops and implements peer-led supports for  workers with experience of substance use
  • Peer Engagement and Evaluation Project (PEEP), which established peer engagement best practices in programs and policies throughout B.C.
  • Compassion, Inclusion, Engagement Project (CIE), a partnership with the First Nation Health Authority, which responds to stigma and discrimination experienced by people, particularly Indigenous People, when accessing harm reduction supports and services.
“People with lived and living experience provide insights into stigma related to substance use and the harm it causes, particularly when the stigma is embedded in resources that are intended to help people who use substances,” says Dr. Jane Buxton, harm reduction lead at the BCCDC. “Physical distancing to prevent COVID-19 transmission can increase isolation and create challenges for people accessing services. Minimizing the stigma faced by people who use substances, both in health care settings and society as a whole, is more crucial than ever before.”

Last week, in the lead up to Overdose Awareness Day, BCCDC launched videos from the Compassionate Action Modules, which were developed collaboratively by the Peer-2-Peer Project, PEEP and the Cultural Safety team from University of Victoria’s Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research. These modules feature stories based on real situations and aim to break down stigma by fostering dialogue and collaboration between people who use substances and service providers.  Check out the modules on the Peer Engagement page, under “Compassionate Action: An Anti-Stigma Campaign.” 

In early 2020, when cases of COVID-19 began to spike in B.C., peer workers at overdose sites needed support and guidance to continue to do their jobs safely and effectively. The experiential researchers involved in Peer-2-Peer project sprang into action, creating COVID-19 resources specifically designed for peer workers and others with lived and living experience, including a guide for responding to overdoses during COVID-19, a video series on overdose response and safe disposal of PPE, and a COVID-19 support guide for vulnerable individuals. These resources were in addition to other COVID-19 resources created by BCCDC Harm Reduction Services including the BCCDC COVID-19: Harm Reduction and Overdose Response guide, best practices for outreach teams and a guideline for using overdose prevention sites during COVID-19

Beyond the pandemic response, PWLLE are contributing their expertise to ongoing work at the BCCDC that aims prevent deaths and improve the lives of people who use substances. This work includes guiding priorities for The Provincial Overdose Cohort, a collection of information on people who had an overdose between January 1, 2015 and December 31, 2018 in B.C. The PEEP consultation and advisory board collaborates with researchers, physicians and representatives from health authorities and partner organizations to develop priorities for analysing this data so it can be used to learn more about overdoses and glean insights that could help prevent overdose-related harms and deaths. 

"Equitable engagement of PWLLE with best practices guiding principles is essential to ensure service delivery models are designed, developed and delivered by and for PWLLE,” says Charlene Burmeister, BCCDC Peer Coordinator.  “We are the experts in our lives and experiences, Peer to Peer service delivery models support best health and social outcomes by way of our commonalities and deep understanding of the systems that have historically oppressed us. We are the driving change necessary within the systems."

Learn more

  • Take a look at the Peer Engagement page on to learn more about PEEP and the Peer 2 Peer Project
  • Watch the Peer Life video about the day-to-day life of peer workers in B.C.
  • Learn more about the Provincial Overdose Cohort. Priorities for analysis of this data are developed in consultation with the Peer Engagement and Evaluation Project (PEEP). 
  • Check out the BCCDC Foundation for Public Health, which supports harm reduction work across the province, including providing seed grant funding for peer groups as part of the Compassion, Inclusion, Engagement project. More information about the Foundation's support of the response to the overdose crisis is available here




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