Four BCCSU researchers receive Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research Scholar Award

published on July 18, 2017

The Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research (MSFHR) has announced the recipients of their 2017 Scholar Awards. Four BC Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU) researchers are among the 20 recipients.

The MSFHR Scholar Program supports early career researchers as they establish independent research careers, form their own research teams, and develop research programs that advance cutting-edge health solutions. Recipients are selected from a highly competitive pool with a focus on researchers who are building cutting-edge health research programs, training junior scientists, and expanding their potential to make significant contributions to their field.

This year’s MSFHR Scholars include the BCCSU’s Danya Fast (research associate), Kanna Hayashi (research scientist), and Rod Knight (research associate). Nadia Fairbairn (clinical researcher) is the recipient of the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research/St. Paul’s Foundation Scholar Award.

“We’re thrilled the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research has recognized the important and innovative research being conducted by our team,” says Dr. Thomas Kerr, Associate Director of BCCSU. “Each of these recipients is doing work that will ultimately lead to improvements in our health system in the area of substance use. These awards not only support critical health research, they help ensure that talented researchers can remain in B.C. to do their work.”

See below for details about the scholars and their research:

Opioid addiction research program to improve prescribing practices and reduce overdose

Canada is amid an opioid crisis, with six or seven deaths a day due to opioid overdose. Prescription opioid misuse can also transition to illicit opiate and intravenous drug use, substantially increasing the risk for overdose and blood-borne infections. Rates of overdose death due to counterfeit fentanyl have also risen and represent a growing crisis in most regions in Canada, with British Columbia (BC) being particularly hard hit. Half of the 800 anticipated overdose deaths for 2016 in BC are expected to involve fentanyl.

Dr. Fairbairn's research will:

  • Address the effectiveness of a randomized controlled trial to evaluate a designated opioid prescriber intervention using BC's centralized prescription network to reduce inappropriate opioid dispensation and overdose risk.
  • Inform overdose prevention strategies by characterizing the inter-relationships between medication prescribing patterns and patterns of illicit drug use.
  • Evaluate the longitudinal impacts of new overdose prevention initiatives and addiction treatment guidelines on overdose outcomes.

This research directly responds to BC's recent declaration of a public health emergency, Health Canada's urgent call to develop strategies to tackle the overdose epidemic, and the global challenge of prescription opioid abuse by generating evidence for safer prescribing practices and informing and broadening the evidence base for the treatment of opioid addiction.

Read more about Dr. Nadia Fairbairn here.

Examining the addiction treatment and recovery trajectories of youth in British Columbia's Lower Mainland

Addiction treatment is critical to addressing the tremendous health and social harms experienced by street-involved youth (SY) with substance use disorders (SUD), including the current fentanyl overdose crisis. To date, the addiction treatment and recovery landscape in British Columbia (BC) reflects a mix of regulated, publicly funded programs (e.g., methadone and Suboxone programs, residential detoxification and treatment programs), as well as unregulated privately and publicly funded programs (e.g., informal recovery houses, Twelve Step programs) that span acute and community healthcare settings. Sustained drug use cessation is an important goal of these programs. However, it is recognized that for many youth their addiction treatment trajectories include periods of engagement, dis-engagement, and re-engagement with various programs, as they move in and out of periods of relapse, increases and reductions in drug use, and drug use cessation. The recovery trajectories of youth who remain largely outside of healthcare settings are also often characterized by this kind of dynamic process.

Dr. Fast will examine and inform ongoing efforts in the Lower Mainland to create a more comprehensive and coordinated system of addiction services for youth, and generate new knowledge to optimize the integration of evidence based addiction treatment across the acute and community healthcare settings accessed by SY. Integrating the methods and perspectives of medical anthropology and implementation science she will advance understandings of how individual, interpersonal, organizational, and structural factors operating in, but also across, acute and community health care settings in the Lower Mainland shape the delivery, uptake, and outcomes of youth addiction treatment interventions.

A nuanced, ethnographic understanding of these places and contexts will inform policy and practice recommendations to improve the addiction services system for adolescents and young adults so that it meets the needs of SY, pursuant to the goal of addressing SUD and the overdose crisis among this population. Dr. Fast will employ innovative and participatory arts-based methods to generate and disseminate policy and practice recommendations that align with the complex realities and everyday lived experiences of SY.

Read more about Dr. Danya Fast here.

Innovative addiction research program: Addressing polysubstance use

British Columbia (BC) faces a mental health and addiction crisis with an estimated cost of $100 million annually. In April 2016, a public health emergency was declared due to an alarming increase in opioid-related overdose deaths in recent years.

People who use illicit drugs (PWUD) bear a great burden of preventable morbidity and mortality from drug overdoses as well as other comorbidities including mental disorders and infectious diseases. While opioid agonist therapies (OAT) have proven effective in reducing heroin use, concomitant use of opioids and stimulant drugs (e.g., heroin and cocaine) is common among PWUD. Furthermore, recent research has suggested that many PWUD also suffer from untreated chronic pain, which may be driving prescription opioid (PO) misuse among this population. However, little is known about patterns of concomitant use of illicit opioids, POs and stimulants, and how OAT and other health services may serve to mitigate potential harms associated with such polydrug use. Currently, no approved pharmacotherapies exist for stimulant use disorder, necessitating urgent research effort in this area.

Dr. Hayashi's research will inform policies, programs and clinical practice to reduce harms associated with polydrug use. His primary research objectives are:

  • To investigate and address the impact of PO misuse, untreated chronic pain and concomitant opioid and stimulant use on patterns of drug-related harm.
  • Evaluate "naturally occurring" interventions and policy changes (i.e., new opioid addiction-related services and Vancouver Coastal Health's Downtown Eastside Second Generation Strategy) that are relevant to polydrug users.
  • Evaluate the efficacy of a novel pharmacotherapy to treat polydrug users.
  • The research will employ vast longitudinal behavioural and biological data collected since 1996 via three ongoing prospective cohort studies of over 3000 PWUD in Vancouver. The findings are expected to inform care development and overdose prevention efforts for a high needs population in BC. One objective will involve implementing a clinical trial to evaluate whether an amphetamine-based medication reduces powder/crack cocaine use among 130 patients on OAT, who have both opioid and cocaine use disorders. If the study medication proves effective, Dr. Hayashi's research will potentially contribute to the identification of the first proven medication for cocaine addiction.

    Read more about Dr. Kanna Hayashi here.

Improving substance use treatment trajectories for men who have sex with men

British Columbia is currently in the process of developing and implementing new evidence-based policies and clinical reforms to address problematic substance use, including new: (i) pharmacotherapy approaches (e.g., replacement therapies); (ii) clinical practice guidelines; and (iii) integrated service delivery models of care. While men who have sex with men (MSM) represent a key group with historically high levels of substance use disorder and subsequent social and health-related sequelae (e.g., increased rates of HIV and sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections), there remains a gap in our knowledge about how best to design and implement services for today's generations of various sub-groups of MSM who use drugs (e.g., MSM who are: young; Indigenous; economically deprived).

Dr. Knight's five-year population health research program will adapt health policy and service delivery practices to improve substance use treatment trajectories for key groups of MSM who use drugs and are at risk for severe health and/or social consequences (i.e., the criteria for substance use disorder, as defined under DSM-V criteria). The aim will be to identify the most efficacious and scalable combinations of strategies to adapt interventions that respond to MSM's individual needs and broader social and structural conditions. This approach to implementation science offers a way to go beyond describing the problem and to focus on building an evidence base for implementing and adapting context-sensitive and population-specific solutions into routine policy and practice.

With collaborators representing the BC Ministry of Health, Vancouver Coastal Health, BC Centre for Disease Control and YouthCO HIV/Hep C Society and the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, as well as through the engagement of the BC Centre on Substance Use's Community Advisory Board, Dr. Knight's findings will be used to inform the development of policies (including clinical and provincial guidelines) to effectively scale up and integrate services that have the capacity to improve substance use treatment trajectories for MSM. Contributions to new knowledge will include the identification of the individual, social and structural factors shaping MSM's ability to reduce problematic drug use and prevent severe health and social outcomes (e.g., HIV and/or Hep C). Study outputs will also be assessed at an annual Stakeholder Workshop in which recommendations will be developed and refined for clinical and provincial guidelines.

Read more about Dr. Rod Knight here.