Youth and opioid agonist therapy: We need to collaborate with youth on short- and longer-term plans

published on August 5, 2020 by Danya Fast, Madison Thulien, Sandra Smiley, and Valerie Giang in BC Medical Journal

North America is in the midst of an overdose emergency that is having devastating effects, including among youth under 30 years of age. In Canada, youth represent the fastest growing age demographic for hospitalizations due to opioid poisoning, and in British Columbia, more than 1000 youth ages 10 to 29 have lost their lives to overdose since an official public health emergency was declared in 2016. Youth who are street involved (i.e., those experiencing homelessness or unstable housing) are particularly vulnerable to overdose, and many other health and social harms.

In BC and other settings, opioid agonist therapy (OAT) can be a powerful tool to reduce young people’s risk of overdose. And yet, OAT adherence among youth is still low in many contexts, and a number of challenges exist in providing OAT to youth who are street involved in particular.

new qualitative study by our research team at the BC Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU) sheds light on what can help when talking to vulnerable youth about OAT as a part of their treatment plan. Our research involved 3 years of in-depth interviews with youth who were street involved, as well as with their health care providers. We found that youth were more likely to adhere to OAT when they were actively involved in decision making about their care at regular intervals, and worked collaboratively with their health care providers to pursue their health and other goals in the short, medium, and longer terms…

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