Summer 2017: Developed and delivered the PIPS (Prevention Is Power Sharing) program at Impact. Three youth from Impact were also trained to train other youth in naloxone use and to distribute naloxone with Impact staff.

Design Principles of PIPS (Prevention Is Power Sharing):

Viewing drug use as a way to meet unmet human needs: PIPS starts with the assumption that “you can’t educate away a human need.” So rather than approach the opioid crisis through an educational lens, PIPS explores the deep-rooted feelings surrounding each individual’s role in the opioid crisis. Topics include concepts of vulnerability, fear, shame, anger, loss, belonging, acceptance, & family dynamics. Through sharing we explore how all of these aspects of “feeling” can create a “push” toward drug use and also, away from drug use.

Power imbalances can frustrate meeting the human need for connection:  Though PIPS always had adult clinical staff on-hand, they were just there for support, not as the expert in the room. Sharing power in the room between members with lived experience on all levels brings a shared knowledge about how the emotional experiences within each individual can act as a change agent, both in prevention and problematic use, depending on the individual.

Youth-led, open to anyone: PIPS recognizes that no person, and no group is immune to the opioid crisis. PIPS is an open group that does not target one group (age or ethnicity). Having youth as the developers and deliverers of the program helps to set a tone of inclusion and curiosity. When it comes to brain development, one could say that “Youth aren’t allied with anything but their own curiosity.” While this can pose some risks, it also can serve as a unique gift that they have to contribute to their community.

Trauma-Informed: PIPS provide a safe place with an abundance of choices for participants to experience a sense of belonging. There are options to share as much, or as little, that one needs to be able to learn from others in the group and unload “baggage” people may have been carrying for a long time by normalizing the complex feelings and reactions that we all have around substance use.

Fun: PIPS purposely works to engages group members in a fun and interactive environment through the use of games, art projects, sharing a meal in a judgement-free gathering place where we strive to meet human needs and build a sense of community.

Size matters: The human needs that research shows underlie substance use behaviours aren’t easily met in a one-time “spray and pray” auditorium presentation or video. PIPS is run once-a-week, in-person in two-hour sessions. The projected group size would be 12 to 15 maximum per session, with the optimal size of 6 to 8. This provides opportunities for time consciousness, emotional & mental comfort, consistency, flow, and strength of cohesion between group members.

Program participants are potential future facilitators: PIPS is strength-based. It is not meant to be delivered “to” people who “need it.” Its power sharing model places everyone on the same playing field. Each person has unique and valuable gifts, experiences and perspectives to contribute. “We are all a lot smarter than I am!” While the model and content requires clinical staff to be present to help people navigate what might come up for them (but what, without an opportunity like PIPS, might otherwise stay hidden and potentially toxic), the model allows anyone with a passion for convening people to reduce harm and support wellness to take on the role of facilitator.

Andrew Millage, one of the youth developers of PIPS on CBC’s On The Coast: