Reconsidering violence in overdose response: Mothers who use criminalized drugs in the context of a toxic drug supply


Jade Boyd, University of British Columbia

This presentation identifies key gaps in overdose prevention interventions for mothers who use criminalized drugs and the paradoxical impact of institutional practices which can increase overdose risk in the context of a toxic drug supply. This study draws on semi-structured interviews with 40 women and gender diverse persons accessing two women-only (gender diverse inclusive) low-barrier supervised consumption sites in Greater Vancouver, Canada, between 2017-2019. Analysis draws on intersectional understandings of structural, everyday, and symbolic violence. Participants’ substance use and overdose risk (e.g., injecting alone) was shaped by fear or loss of child custody/reunification. Findings indicate that punitive policies and institutional practices that equate women and gender diverse persons who use drugs as unfit parents continue to negatively shape the health and wellbeing of participants, most significantly among Indigenous participants. Gender-specific and culturally-attentive harm reduction responses, including services that support community-based initiatives to maintain parent–child relationships, may decrease overdose risk.

This paper will be presented at the following session: