London Health Sciences Centre, St. Joseph’s expanding harm reduction training

Liberal MP for London West Arielle Kayabaga highlighted the nearly $73,000 in federal funding that went into the research program. Ben Harrietha/980 CFPL

St. Joseph’s Health Care London and London Health Sciences Centre are using federal funding to train hospital staff in harm reduction strategies to help understand the lived experience of people facing addiction.

$72,768 in funding from Health Canada’s Substance Use and Addictions Program (SUAP) was given to Lawson Health Research Institute for the development of training based on the lived experiences of people accessing addiction care.

In total, just over $1 million has gone into the research project, with this latest round of funding going into implementing the new training.

Speaking at an event Monday highlighting the funding, Liberal MP for London West Arielle Kayabaga says the overdose crisis continues to take a deadly toll.

“We must take a compassionate, comprehensive, and evidence-based approach, we can’t improvise when it comes to this,” she said.

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“By meeting people where they are, we can help ensure that they get the help that they need it to be healthy and to be well and to be good contributors of our community.”

Research from Lawson found that patients who use drugs like methamphetamine reported a lack of understanding about addiction from health-care workers and hospital staff.

This led to patients experiencing withdrawal while in hospital care, leaving a hospital against medical advice, or not even seeking care in the first place.

“Withdrawal symptoms weren’t being properly recognized and dealt with, or (patients) continue to use,” said lead researcher Dr. Cheryl Forchuk.

“They can’t tell anyone they’re continuing to use even though it might contradict other medications, but if they revealed they were using they’d be kicked out. It’s a no-win situation.”

A specific area of focus from the study was the removal of sharps boxes from certain inpatient hospital rooms.

The research team found that removing the boxes from the rooms of patients suspected of using substances lead to harm, either through the patient not disclosing potential drug use or leaving against medical advice.

“If they see a sharps box removed from the wall, and they just see the bracket, it’s a conversation killer,” Forchuk said.

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“They’re not even going to have that conversation if they don’t think staff are going to be able to help them through withdrawal.”

Forchuk says staff education has been improved so withdrawal symptoms are more easily spotted and dealt with.

400 staff have been trained in one-on-one sessions with people with lived experience. An online learning tool is also on the way, allowing more than 1,700 nurses at LHSC and St. Joseph’s to access the training.

“Staff were … less frightened and more able to engage in conversation, and people with lived experience notice that as well,”

“(Staff) are asking the right questions, (patients) feel safer coming in, they feel safe revealing that they are using without having a judgment placed on them.”

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