The Saskatchewan professor behind a podcast project is hoping to share the lived experience of people dealing with a crystal meth crisis on the Prairies.
Kara Fletcher, the principal investigator for the project, is an associate professor of social work at the University of Regina's Saskatoon campus.
While teaching last year, Fletcher had her students listen to the podcast Crack Down. It chronicles the ongoing advocacy for harm reduction and lived experience of people in the downtown eastside of Vancouver. The area has been dealing with an opioid crisis for years.
Fletcher noticed a change in her students after listening.
"I found that they were much more engaged," Fletcher said. "They were hearing the real life experiences of folks who were living in the downtown eastside, living these experiences in Vancouver, trying to get safe access to safe consumption sites, that sort of thing."
She thought maybe they could do something similar for the Prairies.
In partnership with Chokecherry Studios, a youth advocacy and community organization in Saskatoon, Fletcher applied for funding for the project. The University of Regina and Fletcher have now received a $74,935 grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.
Fletcher wanted to show the Prairie experience because it's unique in context and in the issues people face here, she said.
"We have a crystal meth crisis and I don't think that gets a lot of attention from our politicians or leaders in government," she said. "As a result, it doesn't really trickle down to people being very aware of what's going on."
Hearing lived experiences from a person's own community could help them connect to the issues, she said.
"They might be more willing to engage with the topic, be more willing to engage with advocacy and lobbying for change at a policy level. So I think that's kind of exciting."
Fletcher said a lack of affected voices can lead to a lack of services.
"The government denied funding to the safe consumption site here in Saskatoon and I think that's because people don't actually understand the issues and feel disconnected from them."
The podcast project is still in its initial stages, Fletcher said. Next the team will apply for ethics approval, search for students to help, then pay community members to record and produce the podcast over the winter and spring months.
"I really want it to be driven by the people working on the podcast. So sharing their experiences about crystal meth," she said.
She said it's important for the project to be led by community members instead of academics, because without the lived experience, people may make incorrect assumptions.
"It gives them a space to say, 'Hey, these are the issues that are important to us. These are the topics we want to discuss and research,'" she said.
Fletcher hopes to have the first episode available online sometime in spring 2021.
"I hope that it broadens [listeners'] perspectives and helps folks to see that people who use drugs or have been impacted by drug use are just like anyone else," she said.
"They have stories to tell they have things that matter to them. And they have barriers that get in the way of them achieving the things that they want to achieve or or accessing the things that they want to access."
Listeners will also be asked to complete a survey after hearing the podcast to inform the researchers and community members on what they just heard.