There are many reasons why programs have historically been resistant to peer involvement. Sadly, one of the main reasons is stigma, and the regulations that have resulted from stigma, about people who use drugs and other peers. Traditional stereotypes about people who use drugs, especially those using chaotically or those using so-called “hard” drugs like opioids and stimulants, are that they are unreliable, untrustworthy, and incapable. Similar unfair stigma exists about sex workers (lazy, untrustworthy, unreliable, dishonest), folks suffering mental illness (incapable, frightening, dangerous, completely irrational) and the unhoused (lazy, dishonest, dirty, pathetic).
As with every group that unfair stereotypes have been applied to, the fact is that none of these things are true about every individual in any group even though there may be individuals in every group who exhibit these traits. Importantly, the evidence is clear – peer-involved programs reach more people more effectively than those who are only staffed by so-called “professionals”.
The stigma around drug use is so strong that it is often made into workplace policy banning “drug use” and calling for invasive practices such as drug testing.
Here are a few important reasons why employing peers is critical, especially for programs that are not created by people who use drugs:
During our development Harm Reduction Hacks have collected together a large number of resources from around the web you can find these in our resource folder in Google Docs. We are also always looking for more so help us by suggesting any resources we may have missed.
We do not claim that this is an exhaustive set of strategies, shortcuts, or tips for running an SSP. What we do suggest is that Harm Reduction Hacks offers down-to-earth, practical information for being a better leader, starting and running an SSP, and providing syringe access services. We feel we can say this with confidence because the Hacks are based on interviews with, and the experiences of, literally generations of people who have been doing harm reduction work.
Please note that nothing in this guide should be construed as legal advice. Please consult an attorney local to your area to ensure your program is in compliance with all local, state and federal regulations that apply to your situation.