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Illicit Alcohol in British Columbia

Findings from a Qualitative Research Study

Little is known about illicit alcohol consumption in BC but research by the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) and the BC-Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors (BCYADWS) has identified it as an issue for drug users. Illicit alcohol is defined as alcohol that is not intended for human consumption, illegally produced homemade alcohol, and store-bought alcohol that is consumed in a highly criminalized way.

Alcohol leads ER visits by substance type by far

During meetings for drug-related research, people who consume alcohol also attended and wanted their voices heard. As a result, research was undertaken in the summer of 2012 to find out more about illicit alcohol including: what, where and how people are drinking; the harms they face; and how these harms can be reduced.

Preliminary research had been conducted in the Vancouver area with the Eastside Illicit Drinkers Group for Education (EIDGE), a peer advocacy group that is part of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU). To learn about consumption outside Vancouver, focus groups were held in the Fraser Health, Vancouver Island and Northern Health Authorities. In total, ten focus groups were held, each with approximately 12 participants for a total of 114 participants for the study.

The participants were adults who currently drink illicit alcohol, who drank it in the past, and people who do not drink it but support the issues of those who do. Focus groups were facilitated by the EIDGE who asked the participants questions about illicit alcohol consumption in their community. Each focus group explored participants’ experiences with illicit alcohol and its harms, current health services in the community, and ideas for new services.

The results from this research show:

  • An array of physical and emotional harms from the consumption of illicit alcohol including frequent falls and arrests due to drinking outdoors
  • The availability and use of illicit alcohol depends on the community
  • A need for the education of service providers and police
  • A need for a provincial-level public health approach to illicit drinking and social housing or shelters

The BCCDC and EIDGE are working together to share the results from this research, and to advocate for and promote health and community services that aid those who consume illicit alcohol.

The BC Harm Reduction Program led a knowledge exchange session with WISH Drop-In Centre Society to share the findings about community perceptions of crack use. The session included a demonstration of how to use screens, push sticks, and mouthpieces for safer inhalation led by a Safer Smoking Peer Facilitator from VANDU.

All attendees enjoyed the knowledge exchange session, and the peer-helping-peer experiences made it really special. Thank you for attending and being part of the study!

The number of diagnosed hepatitis C case in 2011 is the lowest they have been, even though testing has gone up. HIV incidents among people who use drugs is also been the lowest it’s ever been in 2011. A variety of factors are attributable to the decreasing trends of hepatitis C and HIV in BC, but a big part is the BC Harm Reduction Program and the service providers in the community doing this work.

Let’s keep up the momentum! For more information check out the 2011 Annual Summary of Reportable Diseases and the Annual Report on HIV from the BC Centre for Disease Control.