Assessing service and treatment needs and barriers of youth who use illicit and non-medical prescription drugs in Northern Ontario, Canada [2019]

Illicit drug use rates are high among Canadian youth, and are particularly pronounced in Northern Ontario. The availability and accessibility of effective substance use-related treatments and services are required to address this problem, especially among rural and remote Northern communities. In order to assess specific service and treatment needs, as well as barriers and deterrents to accessing and utilizing services and treatments for youth who use illicit drugs in Northern Ontario, we conducted the present study.

This study utilized a mixed-methods design and incorporated a community-based participatory research approach. Questionnaires were administered in conjunction with audio-recorded semi-structured interviews and/or focus groups with youth (aged 14–25) who live in Northern Ontario and use illicit drugs. Interviews with ‘key informants’ who work with the youth in each community were also conducted. Between August and December 2017, the research team traveled to Northern Ontario communities and carried out data collection procedures.

A total of 102 youth and 35 key informants from eleven different Northern Ontario communities were interviewed. The most commonly used drugs were prescription opioids, cocaine and crack-cocaine. Most participants experienced problems related to their drug use, and reported ‘fair’ mental and physical health status. Qualitative analyses highlighted an overall lack of services; barriers to accessing treatment and services included lack of motivation, stigmatization, long wait-lists and transportation/mobility issues. Articulated needs revolved around the necessity of harm reduction-based services, low-threshold programs, specialized programming, and peer-based counselling.

Although each community varied in terms of drug use behaviors and available services, an overall need for youth-specific, low-threshold services was identified. Information gathered from this study can be used to help inform rural and remote communities towards improving treatment and service system performance and provision.

Cayley Russell, Maria Neufeld, Pamela Sabioni, Thepikaa Varatharajan, Farihah Ali, Sarah Miles, Joanna Henderson, Benedikt Fischer, Jürgen Rehm
PLOS ONE, December 5, 2019