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USask study on opioid use offers solutions

SASKATOON – Better coordination of existing services, a one-stop shop with supervised consumption, and a crisis response plan paired with a long-term provincial strategy are all needed in the fight against opioid addiction in Saskatoon.

These are some of the recommendations of participants in a research study funded by the College of Medicine and Canadian Research Initiative in Substance Misuse Prairie Node. The study assembled publicly available statistical information and front-line workers’ perspectives about opioid use in Saskatoon. Led by Dr. Lori Hanson, associate professor in the Department of Community Health and Epidemiology, Consolidating Perspectives on Saskatoon’s Evolving Opioid Crisis has found that while care providers have different ideas about what constitutes a crisis, opioids are a growing concern in Saskatoon.

“We’ve heard a lot about the opioid crisis in Canada through news media, but most of that information focuses on patterns in other provinces. Our team wanted to understand the local context and the factors influencing opioid use in Saskatoon,” Hanson said.  

The study found that the opioid crisis in Saskatoon is not solely about the presence of fentanyl in the province. Rather than a focus on that drug alone, a multi-layered response from multiple sectors to address the social, economic and political gaps in care services is needed here. For example, having policy makers and front line care providers work together to create a one-stop shop would increase access to harm reduction supplies and treatment services, while alleviating costs between agencies.

Dr. Peter Butt, a co-investigator on the study, associate professor in the Department of Academic Family Medicine and a local physician, notes that stigmatizing attitudes about people who use drugs are one of the primary barriers to accessing health services. 

“When care providers can work with people who use drugs in a non-judgmental way, barriers are reduced and patient needs can be met,” said Butt.

Although prescription monitoring is well established in the province, this study points out that there is not a corresponding pain management clinic to help reduce physician reliance on opioid prescriptions. Further, while the opioid crisis dominates national headlines, this study also demonstrates growing concern about the increasing availability of stimulants, like crystal methamphetamine, across the prairie region.

The study, started in January 2018, focused on speaking to local front line workers and care providers who directly serve people who use drugs. The study involved 21 interviews with 24 individuals who are key contact points for patients, along with health system managers and policy makers at municipal and provincial levels. Following these interviews, all project stakeholders gathered to discuss the outcomes and future actions at a community forum last fall. The importance of increasing service availability in Saskatoon to prevent further harms was the prevalent theme at the forum.

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For more information, contact:

Kate Blau
Communications Specialist
College of Medicine
University of Saskatchewan
306-966-6059
kate.blau@usask.ca

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