USask teams awarded $600,000 to find innovative solutions to addictions

University of Saskatchewan (USask) researchers have been awarded more than $600,000 to catalyze innovative ideas and move research into real-world settings in the face of the growing challenge of addictions in the province.

Saskatchewan has seen year-over-year growth in its record-high overdose rates and an increased prevalence of substance use disorders (SUD). Besides the recent pressure added by a global pandemic, this pressing health concern is driven by a combination of complex health, social and systemic factors and can often disproportionately affect marginalized populations.

The funding by the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation (SHRF) will enable seven USask research teams to engage knowledge-users and people with lived/living experience as team members to address this growing health concern and ensure the work leads to practical applications to effect change.

“Responding to the needs of Saskatchewan people continues to show the strength of USask’s dynamic research culture,” said Vice-President Research at USask, Baljit Singh. “We are grateful for this provincial investment that has enabled a truly collaborative approach to finding solutions that will improve the health of our communities.”

The projects address a range of addictions-related issues, from smoking cessation, substance use, addiction in youth, and addressing the reliance and risk of misuse of opioids for those living with chronic pain. Other projects are looking at vulnerable populations, such as new immigrants and Indigenous communities.  

Cultural Care for Addictions: A Peer Network Based Approach

Addiction and SUD is a real threat to Indigenous individuals and communities, both in urban areas and on-reserve. The Wellness Wheel, a Regina-based group of clinical and community care providers, were awarded close to $50,000 to lead a project that aims to formalize a proven method of peer advocacy and mentorship to support a continuum of care for vulnerable people accessing treatment.

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 goals of this project are to link and connect these networks into a cohesive group through formal training and certification, and to formally integrate peer mentorship into acute, community and on-reserve clinical services for people with SUD. The project will also facilitate regular communication and sharing circles between peer mentors and service providers.  

“We hope this project can expand the narrative and deepen the understanding of substance use for those living through trauma and systemic abuse,” said principal investigator and USask assistant professor of infectious disease Dr. Stuart Skinner (MD). “As a team, we want to demonstrate the value and role of a formal peer mentorship program as a key component to care for people with SUD in Saskatchewan.” 

Other awarded projects:

  • Erika Penz (MD), College of Medicine ($150,000) Saskatchewan has one of the highest smoking rates nationally, with unco-ordinated smoking cessation programs and the lowest amount spent per person on tobacco control compared to other provinces. Penz and her team will work with communities and organizations to develop a smoking cessation framework that will be included in future provincial lung cancer screening operations, while bringing together and streamlining provincial cessation stakeholders and services.
  • Gary Groot (MD, PhD), College of Medicine ($148,047) Led by community, empowerment groups will be established, composed of Elders and people with lived experiences of addictions, to promote Indigenous cultural revitalization as community-level addictions support to 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 (PhD), College of Kinesiology ($149,989) 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. Gyurcsik and her team will co-design, with input from those living with chronic pain, a self-regulatory skills and physical activity intervention with the goal of improving pain management and reducing reliance on opioids.
  • Anthony de Padua (PhD), College of Nursing ($49,989) Overdose rates are higher than they have ever been before in the city of Saskatoon. Using participatory action research and meaningful engagement with those affected by substance use disorders, de Padua’s team will build connections and explore whether the existing Lighthouse Stabilization Unit can be transformed to better meet the needs of the underserved marginalized people it serves.
  • Marcella Ogenchuk (PhD), College of Nursing ($41,402) 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. The team will 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.
  • Geoffrey Maina (PhD), College of Nursing ($49,371) Immigrants struggling with substance use disorders often keep the issue hidden due to stigma and shame, meaning affected individuals and families struggle to access help. To normalize conversations about substance use and addiction, Maina and his team will engage immigrant groups to explore these complexities, then empower stakeholders to undertake translation activities with the hope of creating safe spaces for immigrants to discuss these issues and how best to receive help.


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