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Thursday, August 4 2022
Press release

Opioid Overdose & Health Crisis in Canada

New Pan-Canadian Research Highlights the Need for Youth-Targeted Prevention and Intervention

MONTREAL, August 4th 2022 – There is an urgent need for youth-specific approaches to address the opioid health crisis in Canada. This is one of many key findings of a series of studies involving investigators in this field from across the country as part of a research led by Patricia Conrod, PhD, researcher at CHU Sainte-Justine Research Centre (Montreal, Canada) and full Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Addictology at the Université de Montréal, and Sherry Stewart, PhD, professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Dalhousie University. The work is the subject of a supplemental issue in the June 2022 edition of the Canadian Journal of Addiction.

Over recent periods (2000-2015), some provinces have recorded the most dramatic increases in opioid-related deaths among those aged 15 to 24. Between 2013 and 2017, cross-nationally, younger adults aged 25 to 44 and youth aged 15 to 24 had the fastest growing rates of opioid poisoning, with increases of 62% and 53%, respectively. During the initial pandemic periods in 2020, an Ontario study showed that people under the age of 35 experienced a 320 percent increase in opioid overdoses. 

In 2018, when this rapidly evolving reality was starting to emerge, a pan-Canadian team of investigators collaborated on a research program. The objective was to better understand what had become a major public health concern, but also to inform prevention and treatment practices across the country.

“We launched this project because it was becoming clear that the opioid crisis was beginning to affect young people, and because, at the time, very few evidence-based programs existed to address opioid misuse in this population,” explains Patricia Conrod.

“Our research found that many efforts made to address problematic opioid use in Canada are adult- and male-focused, and that service availability, access and relevance for young people are limited,” explains Stephanie Nairn, the PhD candidate who led and coordinated the research program. She adds: “This is partly because epidemiological data until the mid-2000s suggested that opioid use was primarily a problem for older drug dependent adults.”

Engaging Understudied Youth Populations Across Canada

Researchers and youth participants contributing to the project represent five different Canadian organizations and institutions: the CHU Sainte-Justine Research Centre and the University of Montreal, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, Dalhousie University in Halifax, the University of Calgary, and the British Columbia Centre on Substance Use in Vancouver. Each site has engaged with a distinct population of youth that has been uniquely impacted by the opioid overdose and health crisis, such as street-involved youth, youth who have been prescribed opioids, guardians and siblings of youth who died from opioid poisoning, youth living in Indigenous communities, as well as youth going through treatment for addiction and their service providers. 

In Quebec, the team chose to focus on one of the historical factors that have contributed to the opioid crisis, namely, opioid prescribing.

“Our study is one of the first qualitative studies to put the spotlight on youth who were being treated with opioids for pain management, highlighting, among other things, how this group experiences dual stigma associated with both their health condition and their prescription opioid use,” explains Stephanie Nairn.

It is important to note that the research program was particularly unique in how a youth-led pan-Canadian summit was used to bring together different perspectives, identify actionable levers of change, and facilitate broad knowledge translation. Researchers hope that their work will encourage a shift in stakeholders’ approaches and mindsets, and lead to the integration of pragmatic and novel solutions that will ultimately reverse Canada’s growing youth opioid crisis.

About the studies

The supplement "An Exploration of Youth, Family and Provider-Identified Solutions to the Canadian Youth Opioid Health Threat” was published in the July 2022 supplemental issue of the Canadian Journal of Addiction. Funding for all six studies was provided by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research via the Canadian Research Initiative in Substance Misuse.

Lessons Learned From “A Day for Youth Voices on the Opioid Overdose Crisis” and Future Directions for Research on the Youth Polysubstance Use Emergency in Canada 
Stephanie A. Nairn, Jason Y. Isaacs, Sherry H. Stewart, Lisa D. Hawke, Madison Thulien, Danya Fast, Rod Knight, Patricia Conrod, Joanna Henderson, Faria Khan, Alice Lam and Rebecca J. Haines-Saah

Youth Perceptions of and Experiences with Opioids for Pain Management: Intersecting Stigmas and Ambivalence
Stephanie A. Nairn, Marion Audet, Lauren Anzarouth, Sherry H. Stewart, Jason Y. Isaacs and Patricia Conrod

Characterizing the Landscape of Service Provider Needs and Gaps in Services During the Canadian Youth Polysubstance Use Health Crisis
Stephanie A. Nairn, Lisa D. Hawke, Jason Y. Isaacs, Rod Knight, Sherry H. Stewart, Joanna Henderson, Rebecca Haines-Saah, Danya Fast, Alice Lam and Patricia Conrod

Addressing Canada’s Opioid Crisis: A Qualitative Study of the Perspectives of Youth Receiving Substance Use Services
Lisa D. Hawke, Na Zhu, Jacqueline Relihan, Karleigh Darnay and Joanna Henderson

The Impact of Normative Feedback on Undergraduates’ Prescription Drug Use Knowledge and Behavior: A Mixed Methods Study 
Jason Y. Isaacs, Kara Thompson, Igor Yakovenko, Karen Stewart-Kirk, Noelle J. Strickland and Sherry H. Stewart

Navigating Treatment in the Shadow of the Overdose Crisis: Perspectives of Youth Experiencing Street-Involvement Across British Columbia
Madison Thulien, Reith Charlesworth, Haleigh Anderson, Rainbow Dykeman, Katey Kincaid, Kali Sedgemore, Rod Knight, And Danya Fast, with the Youth Health Advisory Council

“There’s No Supports for People in Addiction, But There’s No Supports for Everyone Else Around Them as Well”: A Qualitative Study with Parents and Other Family Members Supporting Youth and Young Adults
Faria Khan, Michaela Lynn, Kym Porter, Linda Kongnetiman and Rebecca Haines-Saah

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The CHU Sainte-Justine Research Centre is a leading mother-child research institution affiliated with the Université de Montréal. It brings together more than 210 research investigators, including over 110 clinician-scientists, as well as 450 graduate and postgraduate students focused on finding innovative prevention means, faster and less invasive treatments, as well as personalized approaches to medicine. The centre is an integral part of CHU Sainte-Justine, which is the largest mother-child centre in Canada.

CHU Sainte-Justine

Justine Mondoux-Turcotte
Advisor - Media Relations and External Relations
CHU Sainte-Justine

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Updated on 9/28/2022
Created on 8/3/2022
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