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New CIHR funding to study impact of COVID-19 on mental health and substance use services

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted people who were released from prisons and require mental health services? What about people who rely on in-person addiction treatment to stop using opioids?

Two MAP scientists have been awarded new funding through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Operating Grants: COVID-19 Mental Health & Substance Use Service Needs and Delivery to tackle their research questions.

The research and knowledge mobilization supported through these grants will help inform policy and practice in near real-time to respond to crisis-based needs. Congratulations to our researchers and their teams, whose projects are outlined below, for receiving this support.

Assessing mental health and substance use needs and service disruptions for people released from custody during the COVID-19 pandemic

In Canada, there are approximately 40,000 people in custody in correctional facilities on an average day and more than 250,000 people experience custody annually. A number of public health and correctional policy experts called for widespread release of people from custody during the pandemic to protect their health. In response, more than 2,300 people were released from jails in Ontario between March 16 and April 9, 2020.

MAP scientist Dr. Flora Matheson is interested in finding out how people released from correctional facilities during the pandemic have received mental health and substance use services, and whether they have experienced any disruptions or adaptations to the services they need. Dr. Matheson’s work will provide real-time, evidence-based agency and system-level recommendations to support the needs of this population as the pandemic continues.

Alterations in Prescribing of Opioid Agonist Therapy due to the Pandemic (ALT-POP) Study

A key treatment to help people who use illicit opioids is a medication that reduces cravings and prevents overdose. These medications, referred to as opioid agonist therapy, often require clients to frequently visit the pharmacy and their clinic. To ensure the safety of these clients during the pandemic, which has required physical distancing, several changes were made to how doctors and nurses provide these life-saving medications. These changes included less frequent visits to the pharmacy and reduced monitoring such as urine drug tests.

Dr. Ahmed Bayoumi and Dr. Samantha Young, a PhD student in Dr. Bayoumi’s research group, will evaluate how the changes in prescribing of medications for opioid use disorder as a result of COVID-19 impacted the clients who take them. This study will help inform how to best provide these medications going forward in order to reduce overdose death and treat opioid use disorder during the pandemic and beyond.

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