Peer2Peer Project Helps Save Lives in Overdose Emergency

June 12, 2020. Article by: Government of B.C.

Over the last four years, B.C. has been experiencing an overwhelming public health emergency – the overdose crisis. During this time, peer engagement has been an important part of providing harm reduction services within communities.

A peer is someone who shares common lived experience with others. They may have lived experience using substances and, in their professional work, they build supportive relationships with others who share their common experience. Peer work provides emotional and social support, focusing on personal wellness, health and recovery. This helps create a safer environment for people who use substances and plays an important role in preventing fatal overdoses.

Peer engagement is done through peer-run organizations, workplaces, schools, or healthcare settings. Peer work can provide employment to those with lived experience. It can also give people with lived experience a voice in helping to design services and provide input on programs and policies that affect them.

Peers have been at the forefront of harm reduction efforts since the beginning of the overdose crisis, and before its start. Despite that, peers often lack organizational supports to assist with the emotional and stressful aspects of the job.

The Peer2Peer project aims to identify, implement, and evaluate peer-led support interventions for peers working in overdose prevention and response. The project started in 2017, and is being piloted at two organizations in B.C.

Peer2Peer project manager, Zahra Mamdani, and peer worker, Peter Woodrow, share their perspectives on the importance and impact of the project.

Empowering people

The Peer2Peer project gives peers a voice and empowers them to support people who use substances in a meaningful way. Zahra explains that Peer2Peer, “gives them a platform to share experiences…designing and implementing solutions for themselves and for others.”

The Peer2Peer team works with organizations that employ peers and has created a support model for peers – "ROSE"; R-Recognition, O-Organizational Support, S-Skill Development, and E-for Everyone. The ROSE model consists of interventions that support peers working in overdose prevention and response. It allows them to work in the most effective way while reducing emotional, mental, and social stress on themselves and their clients.

This type of model is essential for use in peer work. Zahra shares that working in overdose prevention and response, including overdose prevention sites, can be very stressful for peers. In addition, peers sometimes face things like poverty, homelessness, and illness. Peers can relate well with the people they serve because often they are friends and family members and because “they face the same reality themselves.” 

Saving lives

People with lived experience also provide important insights that make services more accessible to people who use substances. Because of shared experiences, peers can discuss issues in an open way that builds compassion and trust. They support others to stay safer and can help to save lives.

Peer work gives people who use substances a feeling of being visible within our greater community. – Peter

Peter became involved with the Peer2Peer project through Rain City Housing, where he currently does peer work in the Maple Ridge area. He was introduced to the concept of peer work and its value while experiencing homelessness, when he had friends pass away from fentanyl poisoning.

Peter says he has found it easier to cope with some of life’s negative experiences when he is spending time helping others.

By helping and saving my community and family, I am actually helping and saving myself. – Peter

Reducing stigma

Peer2Peer challenges misconceptions and generalizations that exist about mental health and substance use. Peer work can increase knowledge, acceptance, and communication. It can remove barriers in accessing services for people who use drugs and builds their confidence to use harm reduction services more often.

Zahra says that there is still a lack of understanding about the crucial work that peers do. Peers want their work to be respected and valued by others in their professional field and people in the general public.

Bringing awareness to the role of peer workers can help reduce stigma. That’s one reason why #PeerLife, a video featuring a day in the life of a peer, was created. Watch the #PeerLife video.

Looking forward

Zahra believes that they have accomplished a great amount in a short period of time, and that peers are truly beginning to witness change.

She hopes the project will continue to grow and that their work becomes more mainstream in organizations across Canada.

Peter hopes for positive, lasting empowerment for peers. He believes that through this work, changing people’s way of thinking about substance use is possible.

All life is valuable, all knowledge is worthwhile, and all people are worthy of respect. – Peter


If you or someone you know uses drugs, it is safest to never use alone. Have a friend with you, download the Lifeguard app, or access overdose prevention services and supervised consumption sites if they are available. If you suspect an overdose, call 9-1-1 right away.

Call 8-1-1 for information on recovery and addiction treatment services in your area, or to speak to a registered nurse or pharmacist.

Search for services in B.C. using the Mental Health and Substance Use Service Map.