New harm-reduction program in Vancouver caters to GBQ+, gender-diverse communities

·3 min read
A new harm-reduction program that caters to the specific needs of gay, bisexual, queer men (GBQ+) and gender-diverse people was recently launched in Metro Vancouver. (fizkes/Shutterstock - image credit)
A new harm-reduction program that caters to the specific needs of gay, bisexual, queer men (GBQ+) and gender-diverse people was recently launched in Metro Vancouver. (fizkes/Shutterstock - image credit)

Vancouver resident Bruce says he uses crystal meth periodically, but now he wants to stop.

So he joined a new harm-reduction program that caters to the health and well-being of gay, bisexual, queer men (GBQ+) and gender-diverse people in Metro Vancouver.

PnP & Me is a group counselling program designed to support GBQ+ people who wish to reduce or quit their use of stimulant drugs, such as crystal meth, in a sexual context. PnP, which stands for 'party and play' was launched by the Health Initiative for Men (HIM), a Vancouver-based non-profit.

Bruce, 47, whose last name the CBC has agreed not to use for confidentiality reasons, says he no longer uses drugs in the context of sex and partying but decided to join the free, 16-week program as part of his sobriety journey.

"I have to understand my own use and be able to control that in order to be of service to anybody else," he said.

WATCH | HIM's Simon Rayek on a new health resource for GBQ+, gender-diverse people

Canada's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health describes crystal meth as a highly addictive drug that can create a sense of euphoria and make people feel more alert and energetic.

Along with other stimulant drugs, crystal meth is commonly used in the GBQ+ community during parties and sex, says Evan Matchett-Wong, program director at HIM — making the community disproportionately affected by B.C.'s toxic drug crisis.

At least 161 people died in April as a result of the toxic drug supply in the province, according to the latest figures from the coroners service.

Matchett-Wong says the goal of PnP is to help participants with their health journeys, whether that's reducing their use of stimulant drugs or quitting altogether.

"It can lead to saving their lives and preventing overdoses," they said.

Meeting specific needs

Harm reduction refers to a set of policies, programs and practices focused on minimizing some of the negative health and social outcomes of substance use, according to Vancouver Coastal Health.

Some examples of harm-reduction practices include providing supervised consumption sites, and withdrawal management and recovery programs.

Advocates say more harm-reduction programs addressing stimulant substance use — where reduced drug use is encouraged, although full abstinence is not required — are needed.

Rod Knight, a research scientist at the British Columbia Centre on Substance Abuse, says there aren't as many tools to help address crystal meth addiction compared to opioid addiction.

He says while treatments like pharmacotherapy — treating addiction to one type of drug with the help of another type of drug — can be used to fight opioid addiction, the same cannot be done right now for crystal meth.

Vancouver Coastal Health said in a statement that while it helps fund and operate several harm-reduction programs in the region, PnP & Me is currently one of a few that meets the specific needs of GBQ+ men and gender-diverse people.

'In this group, we're not going to be judged'

Research shows one of the most effective strategies in addressing crystal meth use is contingency management — helping participants through therapy sessions and goal-setting, and rewarding them when goals are met, says Knight.

The PnP program follows this model: participants attend weekly 90-minute group counselling sessions, weekly individual counselling sessions, as well as year-long, peer-led drop-in sessions, where they can connect with other participants and seek additional support. The program hosts up to 15 people per cohort, with three cohorts planned every year.

Participants are incentivized to work toward their goals — which include coping with internalized shame, increasing condom use, and decreasing social isolation, says Matchett-Wong — with prizes such as cash vouchers or passes to local museums.

Bruce says being able to connect with others with similar experiences creates a sense of camaraderie.

"We know that being in this group, we're not going to be judged by anybody," Bruce said.

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