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1.  Factors Associated with Leaving Hospital against Medical Advice among People Who Use Illicit Drugs in Vancouver, Canada 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(10):e0141594.
Leaving hospital against medical advice (AMA) is common among people who use illicit drugs (PWUD) and is associated with severe health-related harms and costs. However, little is known about the prevalence of and factors associated with leaving AMA among PWUD.
Data were collected through two Canadian prospective cohort studies involving PWUD between September 2005 and July 2011 and linked to a hospital admission/discharge database. Bivariable and multivariable generalized estimating equations were used to examine factors associated with leaving hospital AMA among PWUD who were hospitalized.
Among 488 participants who experienced at least one hospitalization, 212 (43.4%) left the hospital AMA at least once during the study period. In multivariable analyses, factors positively and significantly associated with leaving hospital AMA included: unstable employment (AOR = 1.92; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.22–3.03); recent incarceration (AOR = 1.63; 95%CI: 1.07–2.49); ≥ daily heroin injection (AOR = 1.49; 95%CI: 1.05–2.11); and younger age per year younger (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] = 1.04; 95%CI: 1.02–1.06).
We found a substantial proportion of PWUD in this setting left hospital AMA and that various markers of risk and vulnerability were associated with this phenomenon. Our findings highlight the need to address substance abuse issues early following hospital admission. These findings further suggest a need to develop novel interventions to minimize PWUD leaving hospital prematurely.
PMCID: PMC4624845  PMID: 26509447
Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside is home to Canada’s largest street-based drug scene and only supervised injection facility (Insite). High levels of violence among men and women have been documented in this neighbourhood. This study was undertaken to explore the role of violence in shaping the socio-spatial relations of women and ‘marginal men’ (i.e., those occupying subordinate positions within the drug scene) in the Downtown Eastside, including access to Insite.
Semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted with 23 people who inject drugs (PWID) recruited through the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, a local drug user organization. Interviews included a mapping exercise. Interview transcripts and maps were analyzed thematically, with an emphasis on how gendered violence shaped participants’ spatial practices.
Hegemonic forms of masculinity operating within the Downtown Eastside framed the everyday violence experienced by women and marginal men. This violence shaped the spatial practices of women and marginal men, in that they avoided drug scene milieus where they had experienced violence or that they perceived to be dangerous. Some men linked their spatial restrictions to the perceived 'dope quality' of neighbourhood drug dealers to maintain claims to dominant masculinities while enacting spatial strategies to promote safety. Environmental supports provided by health and social care agencies were critical in enabling women and marginal men to negotiate place and survival within the context of drug scene violence. Access to Insite did not motivate participants to enter into “dangerous” drug scene milieus but they did venture into these areas if necessary to obtain drugs or generate income.
Gendered violence is critical in restricting the geographies of men and marginal men within the street-based drug scene. There is a need to scale up existing environmental interventions, including supervised injection services, to minimize violence and potential drug-related risks among these highly-vulnerable PWID.
PMCID: PMC4031309  PMID: 24332972
Injection drug use; gender; violence; masculinity; supervised injection facilities; qualitative; social geography
3.  ‘Safer Environment Interventions’: A qualitative synthesis of the experiences and perceptions of people who inject drugs 
There is growing acknowledgment that social, structural, and environmental forces produce vulnerability to health harms among people who inject drugs (PWID), and safer environment interventions (SEI) have been identified as critical to mitigating the impacts of these contextual forces on drug-related harm. To date, however, SEIs have been under-theorized in the literature, and how they minimize drug-related risks across intervention types and settings has not been adequately examined. This article presents findings from a systematic review and meta-synthesis of qualitative studies reporting PWID’s experiences with three types of SEIs (syringe exchange programmes, supervised injection facilities and peer-based harm reduction interventions) published between 1997 and 2012. This meta-synthesis seeks to develop a comprehensive understanding of SEIs informed by the experiences of PWID. Twenty-nine papers representing twenty-one unique studies that included an aggregate of more than 800 PWID were included in this meta-synthesis. This meta- synthesis found that SEIs fostered social and physical environments that mitigated drug-related harms and increased access to social and material resources. Specifically, SEIs: (1) provided refuge from street-based drug scenes; (2) enabled safer injecting by reshaping the social and environmental contexts of injection drug use; (3) mediated access to resources and health care services; and, (4) were constrained by drug prohibition and law enforcement activities. These findings indicate that it is critical to situate SEIs in relation to the lived experiences of PWID, and in particular provide broader environmental support to PWID. Given that existing drug laws limit the effectiveness of interventions, drug policy reforms are needed to enable public health, and specifically SEIs, to occupy a more prominent role in the response to injection drug use.
PMCID: PMC4133147  PMID: 24561777
syringe exchange programs; supervised injecting facilities; drug use; peer-based interventions; harm reduction; HIV/AIDS; Hepatitis C; qualitative synthesis
4.  “People Knew They Could Come Here to Get Help”: An Ethnographic Study of Assisted Injection Practices at a Peer-Run ‘Unsanctioned’ Supervised Drug Consumption Room in a Canadian Setting 
AIDS and behavior  2014;18(3):473-485.
People who require help injecting are disproportionately vulnerable to drug-related harm, including HIV transmission. North America’s only sanctioned SIF operates in Vancouver, Canada under an exemption to federal drug laws, which imposes operating regulations prohibiting assisted injections. In response, the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) launched a peer-run unsanctioned SIF in which trained peer volunteers provide assisted injections to increase the coverage of supervised injection services and minimize drug-related harm. We undertook qualitative interviews (n=23) and ethnographic observation (50 hours) to explore how this facility shaped assisted injection practices. Findings indicated that VANDU reshaped the social, structural, and spatial contexts of assisted injection practices in a manner that minimized HIV and other health risks, while allowing people who require help injecting to escape drug scene violence. Findings underscore the need for changes to regulatory frameworks governing SIFs to ensure that they accommodate people who require help injecting.
PMCID: PMC3815969  PMID: 23797831
Drug users; harm reduction; HIV risk behaviors; supervised injecting facilities; peer-based interventions; risk environments; ethnography
5.  Hospitals as a `risk environment: An ethno-epidemiological study of voluntary and involuntary discharge from hospital against medical advice among people who inject drugs 
People who inject drugs (PWID) experience high levels of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C (HCV) infection that, together with injection-related complications such as non-fatal overdose and injection-related infections, lead to frequent hospitalizations. However, injection drug-using populations are among those most likely to be discharged from hospital against medical advice, which significantly increases their likelihood of hospital readmission, longer overall hospital stays, and death. In spite of this, little research has been undertaken examining how social-structural forces operating within hospital settings shape the experiences of PWID in receiving care in hospitals and contribute to discharges against medical advice. This ethno-epidemiological study was undertaken in Vancouver, Canada to explore how the social-structural dynamics within hospitals function to produce discharges against medical advice among PWID. In-depth interviews were conducted with thirty PWID recruited from among participants in ongoing observational cohort studies of people who inject drugs who reported that they had been discharged from hospital against medical advice within the previous two years. Data were analyzed thematically, and by drawing on the `Risk Environment' framework and concepts of social violence. Our findings illustrate how intersecting social and structural factors led to inadequate pain and withdrawal management, which led to continued drug use in hospital settings. In turn, diverse forms of social control operating to regulate and prevent drug use in hospital settings amplified drug-related risks and increased the likelihood of discharge against medical advice. Given the significant morbidity and health care costs associated with discharge against medical advice among drug-using populations, there is an urgent need to reshape the social-structural contexts of hospital care for PWID by shifting emphasis toward evidence-based pain and drug treatment augmented by harm reduction supports, including supervised drug consumption services.
PMCID: PMC3951660  PMID: 24508718
6.  Impact of supervised drug consumption services on access to and engagement with care at a palliative and supportive care facility for people living with HIV/AIDS: a qualitative study 
Improvements in the availability and effectiveness of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) have prolonged the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS. However, mortality rates have remained high among populations that encounter barriers to accessing and adhering to HAART, notably people who use drugs. This population consequently has a high burden of illness and complex palliative and supportive care needs, but is often unable to access these services due to anti-drug policies and discrimination. In Vancouver, Canada, the Dr. Peter Centre (DPC), which operates a 24-bed residential HIV/AIDS care facility, has sought to improve access to palliative and supportive care services by adopting a comprehensive harm reduction strategy, including supervised injection services. We undertook this study to explore how the integration of comprehensive harm reduction services into this setting shapes access to and engagement with care.
Qualitative interviews were conducted with 13 DPC residents between November 2010 and August 2011. Interviews made use of a semistructured interview guide which facilitated discussion regarding how the DPC Residence's model of care (a) shaped healthcare access, (b) influenced healthcare interactions and (c) impacted drug use practices and overall health. Interview transcripts were analysed thematically.
Participant accounts highlight how the harm reduction policy altered the structural-environmental context of healthcare services and thus mediated access to palliative and supportive care services. Furthermore, this approach fostered an atmosphere in which drug use could be discussed without the risk of punitive action, and thus increased openness between residents and staff. Finally, participants reported that the environmental supports provided by the DPC Residence decreased drug-related risks and improved health outcomes, including HAART adherence and survival.
This study highlights how adopting comprehensive harm reduction services can serve to improve access and equity in palliative and supportive care for drug-using populations.
PMCID: PMC3955762  PMID: 24629844
HIV/AIDS; palliative care; supervised drug consumption services; harm reduction; highly active antiretroviral therapy; qualitative research
7.  Recommendations for improving the end-of-life care system for homeless populations: A qualitative study of the views of Canadian health and social services professionals 
BMC Palliative Care  2012;11:14.
Homeless populations have complex and diverse end-of-life care needs. However, they typically die outside of the end-of-life care system. To date, few studies have explored barriers to the end-of-life care system for homeless populations. This qualitative study involving health and social services professionals from across Canada sought to identify barriers to the end-of-life care system for homeless populations and generate recommendations to improve their access to end-of-life care.
Semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted with 54 health and social services professionals involved in end-of-life care services delivery to homeless persons in six Canadian cities (Halifax, Hamilton, Ottawa, Thunder Bay, Toronto and Winnipeg). Participants included health administrators, physicians, nurses, social workers, harm reduction specialists, and outreach workers. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim and analysed thematically.
Participants identified key barriers to end-of-life care services for homeless persons, including: (1) insufficient availability of end-of-life care services; (2) exclusionary operating procedures; and, (3) poor continuity of care. Participants identified recommendations that they felt had the potential to minimize these barriers, including: (1) adopting low-threshold strategies (e.g. flexible behavioural policies and harm reduction strategies); (2) linking with population-specific health and social care providers (e.g. emergency shelters); and, (3) strengthening population-specific training.
Homeless persons may be underserved by the end-of-life care system as a result of barriers that they face to accessing end-of-life care services. Changes in the rules and regulations that reflect the health needs and circumstances of homeless persons and measures to improve continuity of care have the potential to increase equity in the end-of-life care system for this underserved population.
PMCID: PMC3490936  PMID: 22978354
8.  Harm reduction services as a point-of-entry to and source of end-of-life care and support for homeless and marginally housed persons who use alcohol and/or illicit drugs: a qualitative analysis 
BMC Public Health  2012;12:312.
Homeless and marginally housed persons who use alcohol and/or illicit drugs often have end-of-life care needs that go unmet due to barriers that they face to accessing end-of-life care services. Many homeless and marginally housed persons who use these substances must therefore rely upon alternate sources of end-of-life care and support. This article explores the role of harm reduction services in end-of-life care services delivery to homeless and marginally housed persons who use alcohol and/or illicit drugs.
A qualitative case study design was used to explore end-of-life care services delivery to homeless and marginally housed persons in six Canadian cities. A key objective was to explore the role of harm reduction services. 54 health and social services professionals participated in semi-structured qualitative interviews. All participants reported that they provided care and support to this population at end-of-life.
Harm reduction services (e.g., syringe exchange programs, managed alcohol programs, etc.) were identified as a critical point-of-entry to and source of end-of-life care and support for homeless and marginally housed persons who use alcohol and/or illicit drugs. Where possible, harm reduction services facilitated referrals to end-of-life care services for this population. Harm reduction services also provided end-of-life care and support when members of this population were unable or unwilling to access end-of-life care services, thereby improving quality-of-life and increasing self-determination regarding place-of-death.
While partnerships between harm reduction programs and end-of-life care services are identified as one way to improve access, it is noted that more comprehensive harm reduction services might be needed in end-of-life care settings if they are to engage this underserved population.
PMCID: PMC3355019  PMID: 22545586

Results 1-8 (8)