Problematic Substance Use and Harm Reduction in Surrey - Public Talk by Michael Ma, KPU - Feb. 13, 2018

By Mike Larsen

I am writing to congratulate our colleague, Mike Ma, for his excellent Arts Speaker Series talk, 'Problematic Substance Use and Harm Reduction in Surrey, BC’. The presentation was well-attended and informative, and the audience was composed of KPU community members, journalists, and activists.

Mike’s talk was based on his ongoing survey-based research in the 135a / Surrey strip area on issues related substance use, housing, and homelessness. The project (80 surveys conducted so far with 120 to go) provides a picture of who is using what kinds of substances, with what kinds of consequences, and - crucially - how these questions relate to housing, homelessness, and poverty. While the research is still in progress, the findings so far are fascinating. Some of these findings confirm (and provide data to support) common or anecdotal notions about substance use and homelessness, while others provide a basis for much-needed demystification.

Of particular interest to me were findings about the lack of available / accessible treatment spaces and statistics regarding participant experience of overdoses (80% reporting overdosing, with the median being 5-7 overdoses per participant) and the prevalence of fentanyl as a sought-after drug or adjunct (33% had asked for fentanyl and many ask for heroin and are aware that it contains fentanyl). Unsurprisingly, 90% of Mike’s participants self-identified as homeless, with 99% having been homeless within the last six months. I encourage you to speak with Mike about his research, and I look forward to future updates on this project.

After providing a review of his preliminary findings, Mike provided some contextualizing remarks about drug use in Surrey, the surveillance and public order policing of drug users, and the politics and policies of harm reduction, detox, and treatment.

Following the talk, questions and discussion focused on culturally appropriate harm reduction and treatment options for Indigenous community members, the language and cultural categories used to frame the discussion about fentanyl (‘clean’ vs. ‘dirty’ drugs, ‘poison’, etc.), and policy and service options.

Generally, the event was great, and I came away with some ideas for classroom discussions and new FOI requests.

Thanks, Mike, and congratulations!