ESRC Relations Study Seminar Series 2022

A space to discuss and reflect on drug use and family life.

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Presentation by Dr Amy Salmon

Date: 19 October 2022, 16:00-17:00, online

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In 2016, a public health emergency was called in the Canadian province of British Columbia (BC) following a rapid increase in the number of people dying of accidental overdose due to contamination of the unregulated street drug supply with fentanyl. Since that time, over 10,000 people have died from fentanyl poisoning in BC. In semi-rural and rural communities, such as those in the Fraser East health region, these deaths occur overwhelmingly among people using drugs alone in private residences. 

This presentation offers a summary of findings from a series of linked qualitative, community-based participatory action research studies conducted in Fraser East, examining the reasons people decide to use drugs alone, the social-relational contexts in which these decisions are made, and implications for overdose prevention. These findings underscore how decisions to use alone are often a response to past and present personal, social, and structural circumstances, which in turn influence how people navigate risk environments. Study participants emphasized that the need to protect valued people and relationships from the perceived consequences of one’s drug use, along with protection of privacy and personal safety, are front of mind when decided to use alone. In this way, participants perceived themselves to be assessing a potential risk of overdose alongside the certainty of harming connections to loved ones and much needed supports that would occur if their use were made visible. In addition, experiences of participants suggest that critical incidents that lead to disconnection from loved ones can heighten overdose-related risks, particularly when individual resilience is worn thin by isolation, stigma, and shame. Implications of these perspectives for overdose prevention efforts are discussed, including considering the ways through which people who use drugs come to be alone, the consequences of disconnection in times of crisis, and the role of loved ones in mediating risks from using in isolation.

Dr Amy Salmon is Associate Director of the Centre for Health Evaluation and Outcome Sciences ( and a Clinical Associate Professor in the University of British Columbia’s School of Population and Public Health. She is a former community-based substance use service worker and leader, and a health systems and services researcher emphasizing mental health, substance use, and social determinants of health. Dr Salmon also leads a team using principles-focussed and developmental evaluation approaches to assess large-scale health system transformation efforts in the areas of integrated health services and long term care. She has served regularly as a consultant for local, provincial, and national governments, in Canada and abroad on these topics, and in the area of maternal-child health and FASD prevention. Her current research is supported by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, the Public Health Agency of Canada, Michael Smith Health Research BC, the Vancouver Foundation, St Paul’s Foundation, and the Conconi Family Foundation.


Date: 13 May 2022

Seminar poster

Emma Wincup’s blog on the webinar. Parents who use drugs: whose rights, what rights?

Seminar recording from 13 May 2022.

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The word 'Family'

More about our research seminars

Our online seminars are free to attend and open to anyone interested in finding out more about the experiences and challenges faced by families affected by drug use.

These seminars aim to provide a safe and non-judgemental space, bringing together parents, practitioners, policy-makers and researchers to share insights and knowledge.

Each seminar brings together at least two people with different types of expertise in relation to drug use and family life. Topics covered are inspired by our ongoing research project about drug use and family life.