Fraser Health: Drug use survey gives hidden population a voice

Judy Darcy

FRASER Health is reaching out directly to people who use substances at home to tell them what they need to know to save lives and improve their services. A new survey posted to provides people with an opportunity to share how they engage with existing health services in their community, shedding light on how we can offer support and connect them to services they need.

“The best way to know what supports someone needs is to ask them, and that is precisely the approach our government is taking to create a mental health and addictions system that is there for people when they need it,” said Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy. ”The data collected from this survey will help us to understand the underlying issues people with addictions are facing and to focus our efforts in the right areas so that we can save lives.”

The online survey went live on Tuesday, asking people who use substances in private residences as well as their families, friends and loved ones to share their insights. The survey is anonymous, ensuring the privacy of anyone taking it, and Fraser Health will use the data collected to help prevent overdose deaths in the region. Topics in the survey include how a person currently accesses supports and services, barriers to accessing supports and services, and understanding how a person’s needs can be supported once they access treatment. The survey takes about five minutes to complete and will be available until June 5.

Fraser Health says the survey is their latest effort to better understand the characteristics of people who are consuming substances at home alone. Last year, Fraser Health analyzed BC ambulance and emergency department data and reviewed charts from hospital admissions relating to severe overdoses which helped to determine that pain was the most frequently identified stressor and that men working in the trades were disproportionately represented. In addition, Fraser Health held focus groups with people who use substances to gain their insights firsthand. The focus groups informed work to reach influencers and led to the development of When Words Matter, a guide to help people start the conversation about substance use.

“So many lives have been lost due to this crisis. People are risking their lives every day because they do not want to reveal that they use illegal substances,” said Fraser Health Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Victoria Lee. “Our hope is that the survey will empower people living with substance use issues to speak up anonymously and share information that could help us understand what we need to do to engage people in our services.”

Many people who use substances alone often do so because of the stigma associated with substance use, making it challenging to engage with people in this demographic. Fraser Health will use the data collected to refine existing services and develop new approaches to engage with this group of people. Since the public health overdose emergency was declared, Fraser Health says their goal has been to decrease the number of people impacted from fatal overdoses in our region, improve access and connections to treatment, reduce harms for people using substances and find better approaches to support people when they use substances.

The survey is part of Fraser Health’s multi-faceted strategy to address the overdose emergency in the region, which also includes prevention, early intervention, harm reduction and treatment. This strategy supports the work of the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions (MMHA) to take action to save lives, end stigma, and connect people to treatment and recovery. Through the development of a comprehensive mental health and addictions strategy, MMHA is working to develop a better pathway forward to respond to the overdose crisis and better serve British Columbians with a system of mental-health and addictions care focused on prevention, early intervention, treatment and recovery.