Presenting author: Chris Gough
Presenting author biography:
Mr Chris Gough is Executive Director of the Canberra Alliance for Harm Minimisation and Advocacy (CAHMA). He has many years of experience in peer based harm reduction including peer driven programming and community development. Chris is currently the President of the Australian Illicit and Injecting Drug Users League (AIVL).
Isolation Blues: the role of the peer based ATOD organisation Canberra Alliance for Harm Minimisation and Advocacy (CAHMA) in supporting people who use drugs during Covid-19 lockdown and isolation.
Chris Gough, David Baxter, Natasha Nikolic, Peer Treatment Support Team CAHMA
During the 2021 Covid-19 Delta outbreak in the Australian Capital Territory in August 2021 – January 2022, The Canberra Alliance for Harm Minimisation and Advocacy (CAHMA), a peer-based alcohol, tobacco and other drug (ATOD) organisation, supported people who use drugs in the ACT through a number of different Covid-19 specific programs.
These programs were forged out of immediate community need and implemented swiftly in order to fill crucial gaps in the ACT’s public health response to Covid-19 after 2 public/charity managed housing precincts were deemed “red zones” and hard lockdowns imposed.
CAHMA peer treatment support workers were embedded alongside ACT Government including Canberra Health Services and NGO (especially Directions Health Services) workers providing essential services and support to these lockdown areas. CAHMA workers teamed with clinical staff to fulfill communication, support and access roles as well as advocacy and ATOD pathway assistance to hundreds of residences unable to leave their homes for any reason. CAHMA provided daily welfare checks and facilitated MATOD and primary health referrals, as well as covid testing and vaccination support.
Later, CAHMA staff were employed at ACT Government Quarantine Facility Ragusa embedded as part of an NGO Community Hub team run by the YWCA that consisted of case managers, peer workers, doctors, nurses, counsellors.
CAHMA also fulfilled a broader role supporting PWUD to isolate at home by provision of groceries, NRT/tobacco and alcohol/detoxification pathways and support with health and wellbeing. CAHMA provided peer workers to help Directions Heath Services run vaccination and testing drives across Canberra especially into high density housing precincts.
This integrated response by government and NGOs, especially teaming clinical and peer staff, shows what can be achieved in a short time when public health is prioritised. It points the way forward for mobile integrated teamwork approaches to support marginalised people where they reside.