Operational and contextual barriers to accessing supervised consumption services in two Canadian cities

Marta Marika Urbanik, Carolyn Greene

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Articlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


Background and Aims: While previous scholarship has documented barriers to Supervised Consumption Services (SCS) access, little is known about how Non-SCS-users perceive available, sanctioned SCS, and how such perceptions may hinder their SCS use. The objectives of this study were to examine: 1) barriers to accessing SCS for SCS-users and Non-SCS-users; and 2) the extent to which these barriers are consistent between groups. Methods: We conducted semi-structured interviews with 75 PWUD in two cities in Western Canada, Edmonton and Calgary, who may or may not have accessed available SCS. Participants were recruited on the streets near SCS via traditional fieldwork and snowball sampling. We employed a generalized prompt guide and asked a range of questions about how PWUD perceived and/or experienced SCS in the area. All interviews were digitally recorded, transcribed, thematically coded, and analysed. Results: Despite PWUD's generally positive perceptions of SCS, we identified several operational barriers to SCS access, including wait times and time limits, restrictions on injection assistance, and client bans from clinics. We also identified contextual barriers, including perceptions of the 'unnecessary' use of naloxone and police surveillance. Importantly, these barriers were consistent between SCS-users and Non-SCS-users, though some SCS-users actively worked to counter contextual barriers among peers. Conclusion: Operational and contextual barriers to SCS use contribute to intermittent access for existing clients and preclude SCS access for others. Addressing such barriers may increase SCS uptake, thereby further extending the well-documented and critical reach of these harm reduction initiatives.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102991
JournalInternational Journal of Drug Policy
Publication statusPublished - Feb. 2021


  • Barriers to access
  • Policing
  • Qualitative research
  • Supervised consumption services
  • Supervised consumption sites


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