Injecting on the Island: a qualitative exploration of the service needs of persons who inject drugs in Prince Edward Island, Canada
BACKGROUND This paper explores injection drug users' (IDUs) relationships with non-drug using family members in order to understand the potential opportunities for, and challenges to, having these family members provide harm reduction services (e.g., clean syringes). METHODS The qualitative data for this paper were drawn from a larger study of IDUs' relationships with key individuals in their lives (e.g., friends, family members). Interviews were conducted with 115 IDUs from across Atlantic Canada living in both urban and rural areas. RESULTS IDUs report that their relationships with family members are variable and dynamic, often changing over time. IDUs and family members engage in a variety of strategies to protect themselves from the multiple harms associated with drug use. Several strategies of self-protection (e.g., discontinuing all contact) are antithetical to the provision of harm reduction supports by family members. However, other strategies are based on continued contact, providing a potential opportunity for the integration of harm reduction approaches. Some family members not only have contact but provide supports (e.g., emotional support, housing) thus potentially facilitating the integration of harm reduction. In a few instances, family members already provide harm reduction supports (e.g., safe space to use). CONCLUSIONS Conceptualizing addictions as a health and social justice issue, and providing appropriate interventions, may reduce some of the harms experienced by users and family members thus encouraging sustained relationships and greater integration of harm reduction approaches into the relationship. Targeted education to family members about harm reduction may also further encourage their involvement in such efforts. Likewise, supporting family members who are already providing harm reduction supports will likely assist in the scaling-up of harm reduction efforts.