The drug toxicity crisis in British Columbia has claimed the lives of over 130 youth between January and May 2022. A new study led by Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute researcher Dr. Danya Fast and published in the International Journal of Drug Policy highlights the importance of collaborating with youth who use drugs to find possible solutions to this crisis.
The study calls for improvements to treatment options, such as opioid agonist therapy (OAT), for young people who use illicit drugs.
“Youth use opioids for many different reasons,” explains Fast, who has over 15 years of experience working with young people. "The challenge lies in the fact that many youth tell me that they live in supportive housing, are impoverished and have no fun or pleasure in their lives, so drugs may offer them a way into pleasure and fun in that context.”
OAT 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, previously published research has suggested that Canadian youth who use drugs are significantly less likely to access OAT than adults, notes Fast.
For her research, Fast interviewed 56 young people between the ages of 14 and 26 who reported using heroin or fentanyl two or more times per week and received some form of drug treatment therapy within the past six months.
The study team 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.
Learn more about the study on vchri.ca.
Dr. Danya Fast is a research scientist with the British Columbia Centre on Substance Use, as well as an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine and associate member in the Department of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia.