Graduating this week, Dr. Ehsan Jozaghi's doctoral research focused on harm reduction strategies and peer drug users' social networks on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.


Criminology's Dr. Ehsan Jozaghi and his Commitment to Research in Harm Reduction

June 11, 2015

Completing both his BA (2010) and MA (2012) in Criminology under the supervision of Dr. Martin Andresen, Ehsan Jozaghi was awarded a Vanier Doctoral Research Award in 2014. His research has been published or co-published in a range of journals including Urban Studies, Urban Geography, the Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, and the International Journal of Health Policy and Management, to name a few. Jozaghi defended his dissertation on harm reduction programs in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside in April this year, and says he will continue his research at SFU post-graduation, leading a social network analysis of peer injection drug users for Dr. Martin Bouchard.

Like many students who do a degree in Criminology, when he first graduated from his BA in 2010, Jozaghi says he initially planned to go to law school. However, he says he was more drawn to the opportunity for combining community engagement and research in Criminology’s graduate program and decided to do his Master’s degree instead. As an undergrad, Jozaghi says his passion for the project was sparked by his when he was introduced to the Downtown Eastside (DTES) community of Vancouver during an advanced directed reading with his future supervisor, Dr. Martin Andresen. Conducting an economic analysis of expanding the supervised injection facility at Insite , he says “this research ignited my interest regarding people who inject drugs (PWIDs) in the DTES.” He says a qualitative research methods course by Dr. Ted Palys also contributed to his yearning to focus his research on PWIDs and “capture their stories and circumstances being shaped by a supervised injection facility in the DTES.” 

Jozaghi’s research questions and methodologies, he says, were largely shaped by the time he spent as a volunteer with Washington’s Needle Depot (WND). He began volunteering during his Master’s program, spending time on the DTES “handing out harm reduction supplies and participating in neighbourhood alley patrols.” He says the experience lead him to see the large impact made with the role of “peers in shaping the healthcare delivery in a very marginalized population who would not normally have access to conventional healthcare.”  Peers, he says are “former and current drug users who are employed as volunteers in the DTES,” and he says they have a “tremendous influence” on PWIDs.

As a Criminology research profile noted earlier this year, a major contribution Jozaghi’s doctoral dissertation made was applying a cost-benefits analysis to safe injection sites operating out of Insite in Vancouver and including the perspectives of injection drug users in his study.  His research argued that the benefits outweigh the risks associated with Insite. In particular, he said “reductions in HIV and Hepatitus C infections, and overdose death reductions” are substantial, saving sometimes “over two or three million dollars for the facilities we looked at.”

While political resistance to safe injection sites still exists, provinces like Quebec are approving their introduction because of research like Jozaghi’s, who points out that “Insite is not only a place where PWIDs can inject their pre-obtained illicit drugs, it is also a place where the clients for the first time might have the chance to see a nurse, doctor or a social worker. Moreover, clients who rely on Insite, have the opportunity to use the detoxification service above the facility.” He says he thinks Canadians and British Columbians in particular have “come to appreciate Insite” and his research has “provided further proof about the benefits of supervised injection facilities in most cities throughout Canada such as Montreal, Toronto, Saskatoon, Ottawa, and Victoria.”

Jozaghi’s study post-graduation for Dr. Martin Bouchard will involve interviewing people who inject drugs, and gathering information about social networks that encourage harm reduction. The data they collect, he says “will enable us to not only to profile the users who are embedded into a social environment rich in harm reduction influences, but sketch out the factors that fosters a harm reduction practices such as less needle sharing, public injections, needle reusing and more usage of skin cleaning supplies.” 

Jozaghi also plans to attend medical school eventually. A career in health care appeals to him mainly because of the experiences researching in the DTES: “I began to realize that people end up using drugs for variety of reasons, but once they are addicted, we should not be treating them through a criminal justice system. Rather, addiction should be only considered through a health care model that includes, treatment and harm reduction.”