Injection drug use in St. John’s is a multi-dimensional community concern that demands a multifaceted community response, according to a report released Aug. 10, titled a Needs Assessment of Injection Drug Use in St. John’s.
The report was prepared by the Health Research Unit, Faculty of Medicine, for the AIDS Committee of Newfoundland and Labrador. It is part of a larger study on reaching injection drug users in St. John’s, headed by Fran Keough of the AIDS committee.
“Injection drug use is a reality, not only in St. John’s but throughout Newfoundland and Labrador,” said Ms. Keough. “This study afforded us a great opportunity to learn from those directly affected by injection drug use and from there gain a better understanding of what needs to be done to address the health issues of persons who inject drugs.”
Dr. Diana Gustafson, Community Health and Humanities, was the project lead for the drug injection study. “The purpose of this needs assessment was to explore the extent and type of injection drug use in St. John’s to determine what services were most needed, and to identify the barriers, if any, to health, health services, and harm reduction information in the injection drug use community.”
The community of injection drug use studied was composed of individuals who came from a range of age groups, educational levels, living arrangements, income levels, and social backgrounds. While men between the ages of 18 and 24 with some high school education and limited social resources make up about half those who self-identified as persons who inject drugs in St. John’s, Dr. Gustafson pointed out that this leaves another half of the population with complex social histories.
“We found that the community of injection drug use was composed of individuals who came from a range of age groups, educational levels, living arrangements, income levels, and social backgrounds,” said Dr. Gustafson. “Because the common depiction of an injection drug user is a young, unattached male who is not fully employed and who has a low income and limited social resources, there is less explicit attention to the diversity within the drug use community. For example, approximately one-fourth of those who inject drugs in Canada are women.”
Dr. Gustafson said that stereotypes about injection drug use exist among health professionals, service providers and persons who inject drugs. “Negative labeling and the faulty belief that individuals choose a life of drug dependence stigmatize persons who inject drugs as less deserving of health or health care services than other members of the St. John’s community.”
Recommendations in this report for future research and actions include disseminating public education and information regarding injection drug use as a multi-dimensional community concern and providing provincial funding to the AIDS Committee of Newfoundland and Labrador to expand services for persons who inject drugs.
Ms. Keough said that with the rising rates of HIV and hepatitis C, it is “vitally important that all parties concerned are aware of the findings of this research and work towards implementing the recommendations.”
The needs assessment study is part of a larger project titled Reaching Injection Drug Users in St. John’s, NL, funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada. The overall goal of the parent project is to reduce the risk of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infections among persons who inject drugs in St. John’s.