The drug toxicity crisis in British Columbia claimed the lives of over 150 young people between January and June 2022. A new study led by UBC medicine researcher Dr. Danya Fast highlights the importance of collaborating with youth who use drugs to find possible solutions to this crisis.
The study, published in the International Journal of Drug Policy, examined how young people navigate treatment options such as opioid agonist therapy (OAT) and reveals changes that could improve youth access and engagement with these important treatments and harm reduction services.
“Youth use opioids for many different reasons,” explains Dr. Danya Fast, an assistant professor in UBC’s Department of Medicine and research scientist at the BC Centre on Substance Use. “They are consumed for pleasure and as part of socialising, but also to treat physical, emotional, psychological and even economic pain, such as the pain of crushing, entrenched poverty.”
“When I first started working in this field, I would say that there was a lot more hopefulness among youth who use drugs,” says Dr. Fast, who has over 15 years of experience working with young people. “Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have seen a lot more cynicism and despair from these youth about their opportunities for housing, employment and education.”
OAT is a medication-based treatment for people who are dependent on opioid drugs, including heroin, oxycodone and fentanyl. It is often combined with other supports, such as counselling, and can help manage withdrawal symptoms and lower the risk of drug-related harms, such as fatal overdose and the transmission of hepatitis C or HIV, leading to improved treatment retention and outcomes.
Despite being recognized as a critical tool for the treatment of opioid use disorder and harm reduction among youth, Dr. Fast notes that previous UBC research has shown that Canadian youth who use drugs are significantly less likely to access OAT than adults.
The study found that participants’ perceptions of OAT were often shaped by their peers, family members and romantic partners, some of whom raised concerns about such things as side effects and the potential efficacy and long-term health implications of the therapy.
The researchers say developing treatment interventions that better align with and address the needs of youth who use opioids could help improve treatment retention and outcomes.
“We need to make sure that we are listening to and connecting with young people who use drugs, and then seeing how we can work with them and not against them,” says Dr. Fast.
Please read the full story at the Faculty of Medicine website.
Through dialogue and knowledge exchange, UBC is working to align our efforts more closely with priority issues in British Columbia and beyond (Strategy 16: Public Relevance).