CERi Graduate Fellow Highlight: Jack Farrell

November 28, 2022
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This blog features the research of CERi's Fall 2021 Graduate Fellow Jack Farrell. He is a PhD student at the School of Criminology and an instructor at Columbia College.

Many British Columbians by now are aware of the drug toxicity crisis impacting our communities. It is an issue that SFU Ph.D. student Jack Farrell has been focusing on closely. During his CERi fellowship, Farrell worked as a research assistant with the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition on a project called Imagine Safer Supply. Safer supply ensures people know the contents and potency of their drugs of choice and aims to reduce the risks of unregulated drug supplies, while also aiming to increase access to holistic support.

“The reason [safer supply] is important is that we're in an unprecedented crisis of drug toxicity and death,” said Farrell.

“More people die every day in Canada from drug toxicity than COVID. And what we've seen from the reactions to COVID is a completely different health response. We've seen a fraction of the amount of work and support go into fighting drug toxicity than into fighting COVID. Safer supply is one of the few initiatives that offer a solution to ending the tide of drug toxicity deaths.”

For Farrell, working on a collaborative research team was critical in the research process. The Imagaine Safer Supply research team consists of a 5-person leadership committee comprised of those who bring expertise on drug use and frontline work, CDPC staff, and SFU graduate research assistants. Farrell explained that community-engaged research offered an opportunity for people who use drugs to flip from being subjects of drug policy into being active advisors on drug policy based on their lived experiences.

“There's a quote from one of our participants in the Imagine Safer Supply project, which, for me, sums up the point of community-engaged research. It's that ‘the people closest to the pain need to be closer to the power.’ I love that quote because I think that sums up for me what community-engaged research can do. In the area of drug policy, you're trying to center the perspectives of people who are impacted every day by drug policy but have never had a say in shaping it,” said Farrell.

While analysis of the research is still ongoing, some of the themes the team has explored include existing barriers to implementing safer supply, the desire for community-led models of safer supply, and the potential impacts of safer supply. Through looking at participants’ perceptions of existing and desired models, the research aims to both describe gaps in current models and chart new pathways toward models which fit the needs of people who use drugs (PWUD) and frontline workers. One prevalent theme throughout the research is centered around the importance of trust, relationships, and PWUD community values to ensure an effective safer supply.

“In my opinion, it’s one of the only initiatives that can stop people from dying from drug toxicity by offering a predictable and consistent supply. But beyond that, it also has the potential to be a transformative tool,” said Farrell.

“It seems like people have been able to kind of radically transform their lives once they don't have to rely on the street supply. And a huge part of that is they don't have to experience criminalization. So, if you regularly access the street supply, chances are you will quite likely get criminalized, but you will also quite likely suffer the consequences of unpredictable supply on your health. Well, worst-case scenario, you die from a contaminated source. But even if you don't die, serious health problems come. And there are social consequences as well as getting criminalized, which tend to spiral people downwards. Safer Supply offers a way to avoid that and functions as a stabilization tool, but first and foremost, it has the potential to save people's lives.”

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