By Karen Kelly
Photos by Bryan Gagnon

Early in her research, Lisa Wright met Raffi, the director of a harm reduction site for people who use drugs in Toronto. He piqued her interest with his definition of harm reduction that went beyond the typical needle and syringe exchange program.

“He taught me three definitions of harm reduction: one is reducing the harms related to drugs; two is reducing any harm; and the third is reducing harms related to the prohibition of drugs,” recalls Wright.

Lisa Wright

That idea of reducing harms related to the prohibition of drugs stayed with Wright as she conducted two participant observations at harm reduction organizations in Ottawa.

“Providing new tools for people to use drugs, like needles and syringes, is really helpful but it’s the prohibition that forces people to use drugs alone and quickly that can lead to overdoses,” she says.

Wright conducted her research at a community health centre in Ottawa as well as a grassroots community organization.

“Examining the relationship between harm reduction and prohibition provides insight into the potential for, and barriers to, efforts that could address the harms people who use drugs experience on a day-to-day basis, including the threat of criminalization and fatal overdose,” wrote Wright in her dissertation. “I demonstrate that the relationship between harm reduction and prohibition is a product of grassroots efforts to disrupt prohibition and legal and political efforts to maintain it; spatial and temporal relations; and exclusionary strategies of control.”

Today, Wright is working as a policy analyst in Health Canada’s Office of Drug Policy and Science, working on the Canadian Drugs and Substances Strategy.

“I get really excited about this topic and I really love my job because I get to keep working on the exact research that I was doing,” she says. “My justification for getting into this work was the need for change and now I can be in this avenue and work towards that change.”

Tuesday, June 21, 2022 in , ,
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