Changes in harm reduction service providers professional quality of life during dual public health emergencies in Canada.

Publication date: Feb 22, 2024

Harm reduction (HR) is a critical response to the pronounced toxicity deaths being experienced in Canada. HR providers report many benefits of their jobs, but also encounter chronic stress from structural inequities and exposure to trauma and death. This research study sought to quantify the emotional toll the toxicity emergency placed on HR providers (Cycle One; 2019). Study objectives were later expanded to determine the impact of the ongoing toxicity as well as the pandemic’s impact on well-being (Cycle Two; 2021). Standardized measures of job satisfaction, burnout, secondary traumatic stress, and vulnerability to grief were used in an online national survey. Open-ended questions addressed resources and supports. HR partners across Canada validated the findings and contributed to alternative interpretations and implications. 651 respondents in Cycle One and 1,360 in Cycle Two reported moderately high levels of job satisfaction; they reported finding great meaning in their work. Yet, mean levels of burnout and secondary traumatic stress were moderate, with the latter significantly increasing in Cycle Two. Reported vulnerability to grief was moderate but increased significantly during COVID. When available, supports lacked the quality necessary to respond to the complexities of HR workers’ experiences, or an insufficient number of sessions were covered through benefits. Respondents shared that their professional quality of life was affected more by policy failures and gaps in the healthcare system than it was by the demands of their jobs. Both the benefits and the strain of providing harm reduction services cannot be underestimated. For HR providers, these impacts are compounded by the drug toxicity emergency, making the service gaps experienced by them all the more critical to address. Implications highlight the need for integration of HR into the healthcare system, sustainable and reliable funding, sufficient counselling supports, and equitable staffing models. Support for this essential workforce is critical to ensuring the well-being of themselves, the individuals they serve, and the health of the broader healthcare system.

Concepts Keywords
Canada Burnout
Healthcare Covid-19
Pandemic Drug toxicity emergency
Professional Job satisfaction
Secondary traumatic stress
Vulnerability to grief


Type Source Name
disease IDO quality
disease MESH emergencies
disease VO Canada
disease VO report
disease MESH death
disease MESH burnout
disease MESH secondary traumatic stress
disease MESH drug toxicity
disease MESH Covid-19

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