A community challenge requires a community solution. That’s the approach a St. John’s community alliance has taken to address the issue of drug abuse and addiction among youth.
Dr. Lisa Bishop of the School of Pharmacy and Dr. Stephen Darcy of the Faculty of Medicine at Memorial are the lead investigators on a project that has fuelled the development of the community alliance. Dr. Lisa Bishop also works as a pharmacist in the community clinic.
“About a year and a half ago we began to see young adults, people in their 20s, getting diagnosed with a variety of mental health issues,” she said. “This would often be accompanied by substance use. Not seeing these individuals in our clinic until they reached adulthood, we thought it might be possible that they were self medicating, which could be avoided with appropriate medical intervention and social supports at a younger age.”
From there Dr. Bishop and Dr. Darcy, along with a number of other clinicians, proposed some exploratory studies with an end goal of using that information to develop a support program. Those discussions were accompanied by engaging the local community board and an open meeting with community members and stakeholders. The community-based participatory research (CBPR) plan evolved from there. Dr. Darcy is also a family physician at a clinic.
“The start was to constitute a formal community alliance between the community board, the school system and the university, which is a unique approach to addressing substance abuse and addiction,” said Dr. Darcy. “True CBPR means that all decisions are made jointly with community representatives and all ideas are vetted through the community board. This will only work with the insight from those who live with these issues every day.”
The information gathering and public education aspects of the project continue. The alliance recently presented at the Community-University Expo in Corner Brook to network with others in the field and also set up a booth at a local folk festival this summer to engage the community and give more visibility to the project. These are just a few examples of the community engagement techniques the alliance plan to include in the development of a wellness support and engagement template that can be applied to any community or group.
However, as the research and outreach efforts progress, patient needs in the present remind the team that this project is an important one for the community.
“Working in the clinic, you are reminded on a daily basis of how significant this is,” said Dr. Bishop. “To see the people and families who are suffering with mental health or addiction issues and recognizing that with more support or early intervention it might have been prevented – that keeps all of us motivated. We have a tremendous team of clinicians, researchers and community members who are behind this. It does take a community to raise a child and that’s our focus.”