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‘On the same level’: facilitators’ experiences running a drug user-led safer injecting education campaign

Cody Callon12, Grant Charles2, Rick Alexander4, Will Small1 and Thomas Kerr13*

Author Affiliations

1 British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, St. Paul’s Hospital, 608-1081 Burrard Street, Vancouver, BC V6Z 1Y6, Canada

2 School of Social Work, University of British Columbia, 2080 West Mall, Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z2, Canada

3 Department of Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia, 2194 Health Sciences Mall, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z3, Canada

4 Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, 380 East Hastings Street, Vancouver, BC, V6A 1P4, Canada

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Harm Reduction Journal 2013, 10:4  doi:10.1186/1477-7517-10-4

Published: 6 March 2013



Unsafe injection practices play a major role in elevated rates of morbidity and mortality among people who inject drugs (IDU). There is growing interest in the direct involvement of IDU in interventions that seek to address unsafe injecting. This study describes a drug user-led safer injecting education campaign, and explores facilitators’ experiences delivering educational workshops.


We conducted semi-structured qualitative interviews with 8 members of the Injection Support (IS) Team who developed and facilitated a series of safer injecting education workshops. Interviews explored facilitator’s perceptions of the workshops, experiences being a facilitator, and perspectives on the educational campaign. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and a thematic analysis was conducted.


IS Team facilitators described how the workshop’s structure and content enabled effective communication of information about safer injecting practices, while targeting the unsafe practices of workshop participants. Facilitators’ identity as IDU enhanced their ability to relate to workshop participants and communicate educational messages in language accessible to workshop participants. Facilitators reported gaining knowledge and skills from their involvement in the campaign, as well as positive feelings about themselves from the realization that they were helping people to protect their health. Overall, facilitators felt that this campaign provided IDU with valuable information, although facilitators also critiqued the campaign and suggested improvements for future efforts.


This study demonstrates the feasibility of involving IDU in educational initiatives targeting unsafe injecting. Findings illustrate how IDU involvement in prevention activities improves relevance and cultural appropriateness of interventions while providing individual, social, and professional benefits to those IDU delivering education.

Injection drug use; Safer injecting education; User-led intervention