Health centers and organizations in Montreal, Toronto, Halifax, Calgary and Vancouver took part in the work. Each has worked with a distinct population of young people who have been particularly affected by the health crisis and opioid overdoses.
In Montreal, the team looked at the prescription of opioids. The researchers thus went to meet young people who, for example, were in remission from cancer, suffered from scoliosis or had a serious injury.
About this group [de jeunes]we have found that they do not receive much help, whether it is information about the opioids they have been prescribed or psychosocial support for their health problem or the use of opioidssummarized PhD student Stephanie Nairn, who led and coordinated the research program.
They face a dearth of relevant information, or just information, about the opioids prescribed to them.
Some of them will have to deal with health problems for a long time, she recalls, which makes this shortage of help and information, whether real or perceived, all the more worrying.
Internet as a source of information
Faced with this situation, young people fall back on their own experiences or on what they find online to learn how to manage their medication.
They go on YouTube and they watch videos of what it’s like to take opioidsMs Nairn continued.
They get a lot of information through these channels.
And if, in theory, young people have access to doctors and nurses who could answer their questions, it quickly becomes clear that they do not possibly call on them because the exchanges with health professionals are almost always in the presence of a parent or guardian and young people do not really feel like they are part of the conversation.
The young people who took part in the study also mentioned feeling doubly stigmatized, both by their health problem and by their use of opioids.
One of their main suggestions was to work to remove the stigma around taking opioids.said Ms. Nairn.
The data collected as part of this study does not allow us to conclude that young people who feel left to themselves in this way present a higher risk of having a problematic use of opioids.
That being said, Nairn pointed out, previous studies have shown that a single dose of opioids increases the risk of future addiction and overdose.
It is possible that the lack of information and education make the situation worse, she admitted.
However, problematic opioid use is taking its toll on young people. Between 2000 and 2015, some provinces saw a jump in opioid-related deaths among 15-24 year olds. Then, between 2013 and 2017, rates of opioid poisoning increased most rapidly among young adults aged 25 to 44 and youth aged 15 to 24.
Access to limited services
Yet, the researchers found, many of the measures taken to address problematic opioid use in Canada are aimed at adults and men, possibly because, until the mid-2000s, epidemiological data seemed to indicate that use of opioids was a problem that mainly affected adult drug users.
The availability, access and relevance of services for young people remain limited.
A new approach is needed, summarized Ms Nairn. To reduce the risks associated with the use of prescription opioids, and we know that they exist, young people must be involved in the development of public health interventions, as has happened with adults.
The research program was led by Patricia Conrod, who is a researcher at the CHU Sainte-Justine Research Center and full professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Addiction at the Université de Montréal, and by Sherry Stewart, who is a professor at the Dalhousie University Department of Psychiatry.
These studies were the subject of an additional publication in the June 2022 edition of the Canadian Journal of Addiction.