“It's just not the same”: Exploring PWUD’ perceptions of and experiences with drug policy and SCS services change in a Canadian City

Carolyn Greene, Katharina Maier, Marta Marika Urbanik

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Articlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Background and Aims: Shifting political contexts can significantly alter drug policy approaches and available supports for People Who Use Drugs (PWUD). The purpose of this study was to explore how shifts in provincial drug policy approaches, specifically the replacement of a Safe Consumption Site (SCS) with a smaller mobile Overdose Prevention Site (OPS) in Lethbridge, Alberta Canada, impacted PWUD’ access to and experiences with harm reduction services. Methods: We conducted semi-structured interviews with 50 PWUD in the City of Lethbridge, Canada. Through traditional fieldwork, we recruited participants within, and just outside of, downtown Lethbridge. Using a standardized general prompt guide to begin interviews, participants were asked a variety of questions about their experiences with and perceptions of SCS access and changes to SCS provisions. Interviews were audio recorded, then transcribed, coded, and analyzed. Results: Participants reported regular and frequent access and overall positive experiences with the SCS, despite also noting certain operational barriers (e.g., long wait times). By contrast, participants reported more limited use of the new OPS compared to the SCS because of three main reasons: (1) concerns about location; (2) smoking room elimination; and (3) lack of social space and activities. Overall, changes to SCS provision produced a range of negative consequences for PWUD in Lethbridge. These relate to perceived increases in drug-related harms (e.g., increased overdoses) as well as negative social impacts (e.g., lack of place to meet other people). Conclusion: Findings from this study provide preliminary indications of the importance of understanding how contextual and locally-specific elements (location, limits on permitted route administration, and social aspects) can work together to facilitate SCS uptake and even overcome traditional SCS barriers. Conversely, the absence of such elements can hinder SCS uptake. Results show that the value of SCS might differ across locations, pointing to the need for further locally-grounded examinations of harm reduction service uptake and experience.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103934
JournalInternational Journal of Drug Policy
Publication statusPublished - Jan. 2023


  • Drug use
  • Drugs
  • Harm reduction
  • Health equity framework
  • Overdose
  • Safe consumption


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