In 2017, Associate Professor Dr. Lori Hanson and her doctoral student Mr. James Dixon were discussing the Canadian opioid overdose crisis as an area of focus for James’ thesis. Both connected to the crisis in different ways – Lori through her then-teenaged children having peers at their school overdosing and James through his previous work experience at the harm reduction agency formerly known as AIDS Saskatoon (now Prairie Harm Reduction). After consulting with different stakeholders in addictions medicine, emergency medicine, public health and enforcement, it was clear to the two researchers that different stakeholders whose work was implicated by the crisis had varying understandings of what the crisis was and how to best respond to it.
Based on these consultations, Lori and James prepared an application for a College of Medicine Research Award (CoMRAD) from the University of Saskatchewan. The application was successful, resulting in a year-long study titled Consolidating perspectives on the nature of Saskatoon’s evolving opioid crisis. With Lori acting as Principal Investigator and James as Research Assistant for the study, the project also included Co-Principal Investigator Dr. Peter Butt, Research Manager Dr. Barbara Fornssler, and Research Assistant Maryellen Gibson. With additional funding from the Canadian Research Initiative in Substance Misuse (CRISM), the Consolidating perspectives… team spoke with stakeholders across the continuum of care whose roles were implicated by the crisis, and the research team produced a summary report found here. The study also included a roundtable discussion with various stakeholders in 2018, and generated local media interest.
With Prairie Harm Reduction already gaining momentum for establishing Saskatchewan’s first safe consumption site, some conversations held during the Consolidating perspectives… study led to the building of the Saskatchewan Advocates for Safe Consumption Coalition (SASCC), consisting of a group of researchers, health professionals, community-based organization workers and students. This group supported Prairie Harm Reduction’s efforts in opening a safe consumption site by providing support in preparing of the application for federal exemption to open the site, securing funding for community consultation as part of the exemption process, and supporting Prairie Harm Reduction’s media release preparation and announcement of the site opening.
Because of the short-term nature and smaller budget of the Consolidating perspectives… study, the researchers were unable to include people with lived and living experience in their interview schedule. This was noted as a gap by the researchers and participants of the study, and is frequently discussed in substance use-related research as stigmatizing people who use drugs by failing to include their voices in work intended to serve them. To address this shortcoming, the Consolidating perspectives… research team, along with members of the SASCC and other local stakeholders collaborated to put together an application for community-based and patient-oriented research that illuminates the voices of lived and living experience. This newly formed team would eventually expand and become the P5 Project research team, and they were successful in securing funds for this research, ultimately naming the project Perspectives, pathways and priorities of people with lived and living experience of substance use: Informing policies.