N.S. universities take part in national study to tackle the opioid crisis

The study will help predict and stop those most at risk for addiction, says researcher

Researchers at Dalhousie University and St. Francis Xavier University are taking part in a Canada-wide study to tackle the opioid crisis — a crisis that took the lives of 4,588 Canadians in 2018 alone.

The Canadian Research Project into the Opioid Crisis (CRISM) has set up multiple research sites across the country to investigate different aspects of the opioid crisis. The branch covering the Maritimes is examining prescription opioid abuse among university students.

The main goal of this national-level study is to get a “full picture understanding” of the opioid crisis, said Jason Isaacs, a PhD student in Dalhousie’s department of psychology and a member of the study’s research team.

“If we have that kind of knowledge we can predict which people are more likely to get into trouble,” said Isaacs.

The Maritime portion of the study is looking for prescription drug users aged 17-27 to participate in focus groups to share their experiences with prescription opioids.

“This age group is the most at-risk to fall into drug abuse,” said Isaacs.

Isaacs believes these focus groups will help researchers figure out who’s likely to try prescriptions and what situations encourage prescription abuse. He said the medical community currently lacks an understanding of the social causes of prescription abuse.

Moving forward

The government of Nova Scotia set up a committee in 2016 to address the opioid epidemic.

In July 2017, this committee released a guide laying out its plans for tackling the crisis. “We cannot make progress on this framework without addressing the root causes of, and contributors to, opioid and other substance use,” the guide states.

Isaacs said the research team wants to go beyond simply publishing their findings in a scientific journal. CRISM’s study has the potential to help government officials gain a better understanding of the crisis to help shape good policy.

As for what specific government policies should be put in place, Isaacs said it’s hard to answer that question.

“Many people have tried to answer it. I don’t think there is a clear solution.”

Isaacs pointed out that the Nova Scotia government’s creation of prescription registries for pharmacies is an example of good policy that slows down potential prescription abuse.

Simon Miller

Simon is a journalism student in the one-year program at the University of King's College. His academic background is in political science and economics, but he also enjoys reporting on local sports.

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