Local organization launches new harm reduction program

Progam offers support for queer men with sexualized stimulant use

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The photo shows the backs of two men, walking arm in arm, as they engage in a kiss. One man has a rainbow painted onto his arm.
Clients are not required to abstain from drug use to access services. PHOTO: Sushil Nash / Unsplash

By: Chloë Arneson, News Writer

The local non-profit society Health Initiative for Men (HIM) has launched a new harm reduction program called PnP & Me to help clients identify and achieve their personal health goals for sexualized substance use. Colloquially known as party and play (PnP), the use of methamphetamines in a sexual context is common for gay, bisexual, and queer men (GBQ) as well as gender-diverse people.

To learn more about their 16-week counselling program, The Peak reached out to Evan Matchett-Wong, program director of HIM. The PnP & Me program is currently running its first cohort of clients, providing peer-led and drop-in group counselling. They also provide one-on-one counselling sessions with a professional. “The big component of this is not only receiving the mental health services, but also the social connections,” they said. 

Matchett-Wong noted LGBTQIA2S+ individuals often face higher rates of poverty and job discrimination. “[They] might be encountering a life that is hard to live and hard to find joy [ . . . ] for some individuals drug use is the only way they can find that joy.” 

The BC’s coroners service reported at least 161 British Columbians died from toxic drug supply in the month of April. Substance abuse particularly affects the LGBTQIA2S+ community — members are more likely to suffer from substance abuse than their heterosexual counterparts. The American Addiction Centers explains these numbers are affected by lack of support, internalized homophobia, disproportionate rates of mental health issues, and the need for specialized treatment options.

“Drug use has a multitude of complex factors and reasons for why someone would go into using any type of substance.” Matchett-Wong added, “It can be anything from surviving conversion therapy, being disowned by their families, or having difficulties accessing other services.” 

In an interview with Global News, Matchett-Wong discussed how harm reduction is crucial in mitigating the effects of toxic drug supply. “The major component about having a harm reduction based program like this is to help reduce those deaths within the community just by limiting the usage of it,” they said. “We have a firm belief that people are masters of their own bodies and have control over their own health, meaning that if someone wants to join the program and they don’t want to quit using crystal meth, they don’t have to.”

This means anyone whose goal is to reduce their usage may join the program without the pressure to remain abstinent from drug usage entirely. The strategy HIM employs is called contingency management, where they encourage clients to set goals with incentives if they achieve them. “We approach [the program] with a sense that it’s not condescending or patriarchal,” said Matchett-Wong. They note the program, unlike many others, does not require individuals to test clean for methamphetamines to participate. “We don’t believe in punishing people for using.”

On their website, HIM states their goal is to “strengthen the health and well-being in communities of self-identified GBQ men and gender diverse people in BC.” They have health centres in the Lower Mainland as well as anonymous testing events in the interior of BC to prevent and treat HIV and STIs for GBQ men. Their physical and social health programs provide holistic support to the GBQ community in BC.

To learn more about HIM’s harm reduction program and services, you can visit their website or email peer@checkhimout.ca for more information.