With rates of addictions on the rise in this province – driven in part by the global COVID pandemic – the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation (SHRF) is awarding $900,000 in funding this year to 10 projects aimed at identifying creative solutions to increasing substance misuse.
The grants are part of the new Solutions program, which aims to mobilize the research community and its partners around specific challenges facing the province and its health care system. Last year support was provided to projects exploring how virtual care can ensure patients’ needs are met.
Teams supported through this year’s Solutions Focus Area - Addictions are addressing gaps across the addictions continuum, from prevention and harm reduction to treatment and recovery. In alignment with the objectives of the Saskatchewan Centre for Patient-Oriented Research (SCPOR), patient-oriented research was also highlighted in this year’s competition.
Projects will involve people with lived or living experiences with addictions, to ensure that the strategies developed are effective and provide people with the supports they need. Patient-oriented research engages patients, caregivers, and persons with lived and living experience as partners in, rather than subjects of, research. The result is better patient outcomes, improved patient and care-provider experiences, enhanced population health, and lower health system costs.
Projects receiving support as part of the 2021-22 Solutions partnership include one enhancing an existing online therapy program that’s already helped many Saskatchewan residents who have problems with alcohol, and another exploring whether graphic medicine can reduce the stigma people with chronic pain experience when they seek care.
See the full list of funded projects below.
Two types of grants are funded under the Solutions program: Innovation grants and Impact grants. Innovation grants support novel approaches and creative problem solving to address timely health care challenges. Funded projects focused on a range of topics, including culturally responsive peer education approaches, exploring the substance use among immigrants in Regina, SK, and visual storytelling to reduce stigma around chronic pain and substance use.
Impact grants focus on implementing solutions into real world settings and practical applications. Funded projects will examine physical activity as an alternative pain management method, internet delivered cognitive behaviour therapy for alcohol misuse, and advancing tobacco control within Saskatchewan, among others.
To read more about Solutions – Addictions and the research we’ve funded, check out: Supporting solutions to Saskatchewan's growing addictions problem
To read more about other Solutions Focus Areas funded this year, watch for the announcement April 5
To read more about focus areas we’ve supported through previous Solutions grants, check out: Over $1M invested in research to support virtual care solutions to Saskatchewan health challenges
Innovation Funding Recipients
Anthony de Padua, University of Saskatchewan, $49,989
Building Connections, Exploring Possibilities, and Reducing Harm for Staff and Persons with Substance Use Disorders within the Lighthouse Facilities through the use of Participatory Action Research and the Meaningful Engagement with those affected by Substance Use Disorders
Losing all family and community connections is said to be the beginning of the end for hope and potentially life for people with substance use disorders (SUD). The Lighthouse Stabilization Unit (LSU) offers a safe place for managing people with SUD. They can be safely monitored and have a place to be able to recover from the effects of using alcohol or drugs. There they receive a place to sleep, food, and access to harm reduction supplies. Overdose rates are higher than they have ever been before in the city of Saskatoon. Users are being told not to use alone so that someone can watch them in case they overdose on tainted drugs. We are losing people who are simply trying to deal with a health care issue (SUD) on their own without the support of a health care team. The objectives of this research is to explore whether the existing Lighthouse Stabilization Unit can be transformed to better meet the needs of the underserved marginalized people it serves. This will be accomplished through participatory action research by working with Lighthouse staff, administration, community members, researchers, and most importantly people with lived experience to develop a set of workable and achievable goals to address the challenges of substance use within the Lighthouse Stabilization Unit.
Geoffrey Maina, University of Saskatchewan, $49,371
Co-Principal Investigators: Razawa Maroof and Neelu Sachdev
Exploring the complexities of substance use and addiction among immigrants in Regina
The number of immigrants from non-European countries, commonly referred to as ethnic minorities, is increasing in Saskatchewan and accounts for 11% of the population. This number will increase with the province's plan to grow the population by 300,000 by 2030. At a recent community engagement event with stakeholders in the settlement industry, it was reported that immigrants are using substances at a concerning rate. Partners think that the risk for substance use among these immigrants in Regina is due to acculturation stress, and the ease of access to alcohol and marijuana, two legally and socially accepted substances in Canada. Immigrants struggling with substance use often keep this issue hidden from the public due to stigma and shame.Subsequently, affected individuals and families struggle to access help to recover or manage substance use disorders. Thus, they often suffer in silence. To normalize conversations about substance use and addiction among the ethnic minority immigrant communities, we propose a study that entails engaging seven immigrant groups in a study on how substance use affects their communities. Communities to be involved in the study will be identified collaboratively by the research team and the community partners. After that, we will empower selected stakeholders to undertake translation activities with their respective communities using the data collected. In this manner, we hope to create safe spaces for immigrants to discuss the issues of substance use and imagine how best-affected members can receive help.
Marcella Ogenchuk, University of Saskatchewan, $41,401
Co-Principal Investigator: Vivian Ramsden
Co-creating High School Student Wellness Initiatives
Alcohol continues to be the drug of choice by Canadians with the average age of initiation being 13. A significant number of youth aged 10 to 24 were hospitalized for harm caused by substance use or involved care for dependence or withdrawal from a substance. About 15% of hospital stays involved caring for substance-induced psychotic disorder. The focus of this research is to identify individuals, families, community leaders, health care providers, educators, and policymakers to work together in developing programs that will be used within communities to improve the health and well-being of Saskatchewan’s children and youth, specifically in the prevention of substance use disorder and addictions.
Stuart Skinner, University of Saskatchewan, $49,580
Cultural Care for Addictions: A Peer Network Based Approach
The increased prevalence of addiction and substance use disorder (SUD), combined with unprecedented rates of drug overdose has disproportionately affected marginalized populations. The COVID-19 pandemic is a key contributor to these outcomes. Increased substance use and fatal overdose is correlated with clear deficiencies in the Saskatchewan health care system and inaccessibility of health care services. Peer advocacy and mentorship is a proven method to support vulnerable people with accessing treatment and care for addiction and SUD. Peer networks supporting clients with SUD are operating throughout Saskatchewan, but without formal recognition, training, or integration into the provincial health and social care structures. The objectives of this project are to: link and connect the peer networks throughout the province into a cohesive group through the formal training and certification; formally integrate peer mentorship into acute, community, and on-reserve clinical services for people with SUD; facilitate regular communication and sharing circles between peer mentors and service providers to share knowledge and discuss solutions that better support clients with SUD; and expand the narrative and deepen the understanding of substance use for those living through with trauma and systemic abuse.
Susan Tupper, Saskatchewan Health Authority, $50,000
Co-Principal Investigator: Erin Beckwell
Funded in partnership with the Saskatchewan Centre for Patient-Oriented Research
Solutions-focused storytelling to promote people-centered care: challenging stigma with chronic pain and substance use through graphic medicine
People living with pain may use prescription medications (e.g. opioids, sleep medications, anti-depressants) to cope with pain and its side effects. Some also use non-prescribed medications (e.g. cannabis, illegal opioids) or alcohol, or use prescribed medications in potentially harmful ways (e.g. higher dose than prescribed). Our previous research found that many people living with pain feel misunderstood or judged by healthcare providers. Prescribers report feeling pressured to prescribe opioids, but lack knowledge about alternate effective treatment options. Judgmental beliefs (i.e. stigma) and discrimination towards people living with chronic pain and those who use substances contribute to difficult healthcare experiences. This project aims to reduce stigma in healthcare through the proven medium of comic-style educational stories (i.e. graphic medicine). Through “thought bubbles” or side panels, comics reveal hidden stories and background information that are often not communicated and teach better ways to communicate. The comics will be the foundation for a multi-level anti-stigma campaign.
Impact Funding Recipients
Gary Groot, University of Saskatchewan, $148,047
Co-Principal Investigator: Sabira Valiani
Cultural Revitalization as Community-Level Addictions Support
The advisory committee directing Morning Star Lodge has a wide range of experience surrounding addictions within their communities including that of living with, and recovering from, addiction, caring for people struggling with addiction, and providing cultural Teachings on how to live well. This group of highly knowledgeable co-researchers is aware of a critical gap in addictions services. Specifically, when Indigenous Peoples complete rehabilitation, there is still much healing needed - and this healing is not supported. Therefore, Indigenous Peoples face a significant barrier on their recovery journey when they attempt to fully re-integrate themselves into their communities as sober members. Importantly, these communities have culturally appropriate solutions to this problem that exist within community-specific Knowledges, Teachings, and Ceremonies. Led by community, Empowerment Groups will be established and composed of Elders and people with lived experiences of addictions. These Groups will meet monthly to discuss and address community and individual addiction priorities. Within these groups, Indigenous cultural practices will blend with Western addictions knowledge. These Groups will work to reduce stigma around addictions, provide culturally appropriate Teachings, and promote Indigenous cultural revitalization. At Group-organized community events, Peoples of all ages will receive Teachings that will strengthen the community’s protection against addiction and relapse. Through these groups, Indigenous Peoples struggling with addiction will redefine themselves and reconnect to who they are as Indigenous Peoples. Revitalizing local culture will aid with addiction recovery, reduce future addictions and relapse, and hold the wide range of benefits that stem from a stronger connection to one’s culture.
Nancy Gyurcsik, University of Saskatchewan, $149,989
Co-Principal Investigator: Susan Tupper
Co-design and testing of a self-regulatory skills + physical activity intervention: Implementation outcomes and impacts on physical activity, pain management, and opioid use among Saskatchewan adults living with chronic pain
One in five Saskatchewan adults lives with chronic pain. When pain is poorly managed and interferes with people’s abilities to perform everyday activities, increases in opioid use and misuse can occur. Although physical activity can promote better chronic pain management, most adults living with chronic pain are inactive. As a result, pain-specific physical activity programs are needed in Saskatchewan. Such programs should include education on chronic pain and physical activity and help people develop the fundamental skills needed to be physically active for life, such as learning how to effectively cope with barriers to physical activity. We will co-design such a program, with input from Saskatchewan adults living with chronic pain. Program participants are expected to engage in more physical activity and report better pain management, like less pain. Notably, improved pain management can reduce reliance on opioids and risk for misuse. We envision working with exercise provider certification organizations to identify strategies to ensure the program is widely accessible across Saskatchewan. In doing so, adults will have access to an effective non-drug therapy to better manage chronic pain.
Heather Hadjistavropoulos, University of Regina, $150,000
Funded in partnership with the Saskatchewan Centre for Patient-Oriented Research
Enhancing Impact of Internet-delivered Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for Alcohol Misuse by Addressing Co-morbidity and Improving Patient Narratives: A Patient-Oriented Research Approach
Alcohol misuse is a common problem in Saskatchewan that impacts functioning. Unfortunately, many patients do not receive treatment. Internet-delivered Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (ICBT) represents a novel approach to addressing alcohol misuse. In ICBT, patients review strategies to help with alcohol misuse online over 8 weeks, and if desired, receive support from a clinician via email/phone. While research shows ICBT is effective, program uptake could be greater. Moreover, patients indicate that ICBT could be improved if patients could also access additional resources on common co-occurring concerns (e.g. cannabis, posttraumatic stress, anger). Furthermore, patients indicate it would be beneficial to have more examples or stories to help them participate in treatment. The purpose of this research is to explore if ICBT for alcohol misuse enhanced with additional resources and patient examples, namely the Alcohol Change Course Enhanced (ACCE), will lead to greater uptake, engagement and outcomes than the original Alcohol Change Course (ACC).
Erika Penz, University of Saskatchewan, $150,000
Co-Principal Investigator: Riaz Alvi
Advancing Tobacco Control in Saskatchewan: An Integrated Equity-Informed Approach
Saskatchewan has one the highest smoking rates nationally (16.0%) compared to the national average (12.9%). Tobacco use is leading cause of preventable deaths. Tobacco cessation programs are effective in providing the supports needed for people to quit smoking and reduces smoking-related risks of mortality and morbidity. Smoking cessation programs in Saskatchewan are uncoordinated. Additionally, Saskatchewan spends the lowest amount per person on tobacco control compared to other provinces. Provincially, a lung cancer screening (LCS) program is under development with a plan to include smoking cessation into the program. This provides an opportunity to examine the current gaps in smoking cessation services, which will inform a provincial-coordinated smoking cessation framework and structure. The purpose of this project is to work together with communities and organizations to develop a smoking cessation framework that will be included in future provincial LCS operations, while bringing together and streamlining provincial cessation stakeholders and services. Inclusion of smoking cessation in LC screening across the province can improve population health and advance efforts to reduce the inequities faced by individuals affected by tobacco use in Saskatchewan.
Charles Plante, Saskatchewan Health Authority, $149,989
Emergency Department Visits for Substance Addiction and Their Consequences: A Saskatchewan Population-based Retrospective Cohort Study
The objective of this study will be to work with knowledge users and patient partners to capitalize on powerful health system data. We will access health information that has already been gathered in the process of providing health services and use it to identify and study patients who have a history of being hospitalized for substance addictions. In the first stage of the project, we will use this data to produce an overall picture of substance addiction in our province and identify the most common care trajectories patients suffering addiction pass through in our health system. In the second phase, we will work with patient partners and knowledge users to identify and answer at least two priority research questions which can be answered using the new substance addictions cohort.
About SHRF - Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation (SHRF) is the provincial funding agency that funds, supports and promotes the impact of health research that matters to Saskatchewan. SHRF collaborates with stakeholders to contribute to the growth of a high-performing health system, culture of innovation and the improved health of citizens by strengthening research capacity and competitiveness, increasing the investment in health research in Saskatchewan and aligning research with the needs of our stakeholders.
For more information, please contact:
Chelsea Cunningham, SHRF Programs Manager