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CIHR-funded study to examine impact of pandemic
CIHR-funded study to examine impact of pandemic’s public health measures on people who use opioids and their supporters
Posted on 10/03/2023
CIHR-funded study to examine impact of pandemic’s public health measures on people who use opioids and their supporters

A new Canadian Institutes of Health Research study will seek to understand

Linda Adams and Bernard Le Foll 
Dr. Bernard Le Foll, Waypoint Vice-President
Research and Academics and
Chief Scientific Officer and Linda Adams,
Waypoint Vice-President Patient Experience and
Chief Nursing Executive, are principal
investigators on the project 

the effects of pandemic public health measures on people who use opioids and their closest supporters, aiming to safeguard lives during future pandemics.


“The COVID-19 pandemic has not treated everyone equally. Some people, such as those who use opioids, have been hit particularly hard,” says Linda Adams, Principal Investigator and Waypoint Vice-President Patient Experience and Chief Nursing Executive. “Throughout history, pandemics have affected certain groups of people more than others, and this pandemic has been no different. The disruption of services and increased isolation have left people who use opioids especially vulnerable. We are very concerned about the number of deaths related to opioid use and the results of this study could serve as a lifeline in future pandemics.”


According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, there was a shocking 96% increase in opioid-related deaths from April 2020 to March 2021, reaching an alarming 7,362 deaths compared to the previous year’s 3,747 deaths. In Ontario, opioid-related fatalities among individuals aged 24-44 surged by a staggering 79%, while the Simcoe County Muskoka region saw a distressing 70% surge.


Equipped with a $149K grant from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, Waypoint has joined forces with two other specialty mental health hospitals and community organizations in Simcoe County/Muskoka and Toronto to form a learning community. This diverse group includes people with personal experiences, service providers, researchers, policy experts, and academics, all united in their commitment to prevent similar challenges in future pandemics.


In alignment with one of Waypoint’s key strategic objectives, the study will use a patient-oriented research approach. This approach ensures the meaningful participation of people who use opioids, care providers, and families as equal partners throughout the study. This high level of engagement ensures that future pandemic responses align with the priorities of those most impacted, leading to better outcomes.


"We appreciate CIHR's support which empowers us to analyze past policies and understand how they impacted people using opioids and their supporter networks," says Dr. Bernard LeFoll, Principal Investigator and Waypoint's Vice-President Research and Academics and Chief Scientific Officer. "The knowledge we gain will guide the development of better policies that address the needs of vulnerable populations in times of crisis."


The project is supported by Waypoint Research Assistant Megan Campbell along with Dr. Sara Ling (Co-Principal Investigator, CAMH), Sridevi Kundurthi (Research Assistant, CAMH), Graham Woodward (Co-Principal Investigator Policy Lead, Mental Health and Addictions Centre of Excellence), Dr. Gillian Strudwick (Co-Investigator CAMH), Dr. Christopher Canning (Co-Investigator, Waypoint), Dr. Chris Perlman and Dr. Carrie McAiney (Co-Investigators, University of Waterloo), Dr. Cara Evans (Co-Investigator, McMaster University), Dr Heather Bullock (Co-Investigator, Waypoint), Nicole Adams (Co-Investigator, Waypoint), and Indigenous Lead Germaine Elliot. Other key contributors include Sara Tilley, Mia Brown, Anissa Borneman, Dr. Ginette Poulin, Dr. Sara Lankshear, Patient Client Family Council representatives from both Waypoint and CAMH and other individuals with lived experience


Waypoint remains dedicated to advancing research and improving the lives of individuals affected by mental health and substance use challenges. With CIHR's support, the organization is confident that this study will yield profound insights into the impact of pandemic responses on vulnerable populations, paving the way for transformative changes in the future.


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