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Dr. Barbara Fornssler (BA'05, PhD), adjunct professor in the USask School of Public Health. (Photo Credit: Maki Fotos)

USask researchers highlight voices of people with addictions to improve services

According to the latest figures from the Saskatchewan Coroners Service, the province is on track to have 378 overdose deaths this year—continuing a tragic upward trend that began in 2016.

As part of a research study called P5 Project YXE, researchers in the University of Saskatchewan’s (USask) School of Public Health are talking to people in Saskatoon who have experience with problematic substance use, to hear their ideas on what changes to programs and policies could help improve addiction care locally and provincially.

Adjunct faculty member Dr. Barb Fornssler (BA'05, PhD) and her team are interviewing 20 white collar workers, 20 blue collar workers, and 20 “no collar” or underemployed individuals who have experienced a disruption in their relationships or employment as a result of substance use. They want to learn how people in different economic groups access addiction services—or whether people avoid seeking support because of stigma or fears over losing their job.

Fornssler said the research literature as well as local service providers they talked to in an earlier project (Consolidating perspectives on the nature of Saskatoon’s evolving opioid crisis) highlight the need to speak directly with people who use substances, to ensure their experience informs decisions.

“We have this old habit of having people who are not impacted by the policies they’re making sitting around the policy table,” said Fornssler.

Staff at Prairie Harm Reduction (PHR) in Saskatoon, the province’s only safe consumption site, are encouraging their clients to participate in the study and providing a computer and quiet space for people to speak with researchers. Jason Mercredi (BEd'09), executive director of PHR, said his clients often want to make their stories heard and have the public to know what’s going on.

“One thing I like about Saskatchewan is we're big on pragmatism and pragmatic approaches,” said Mercredi. “In order for us to have that, we need to have the voices of people with lived experiences at the forefront.”

Current policies about addiction services—what Fornssler calls legacy policies-are not grounded in current evidence and thus not meeting the needs of individuals who use substances. She said that while there’s been similar research done in other Canadian cities—including Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto—Saskatchewan has its own unique geography, political context, and culture, so we can’t simply plug and play solutions that have worked elsewhere.

Fornssler—a self-described “pie in the sky thinker”—hopes the project leads to a change in perceptions around substance use.

“These are our friends and family,” she said. “They are doctors and lawyers, these are all folks we meet on a day-to-day basis...and many of them are struggling with substance use in some form. That’s not a shameful thing. That is a very common thing.”

Originally published on https://news.usask.ca.

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