Over the past few years, the incidence of opioid-related deaths in all regions of Canada has reached crisis proportions. The latest figures from the Public Health Agency of Canada show that 14,700 apparent opioid-related deaths occurred between January 2016 and June 2019 in Canada, and that nearly all (94%) of these deaths were accidental. One known contributor to the rising rates of both fatal and non-fatal overdose is the issue of unknown drug quality and contents.
Professor Lynne Leonard of the Faculty of Medicine and her team implemented a community-based drug-checking program at the Oasis Supervised Injection Site (SIS) of the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre in Ottawa.
“We have purchased and installed a novel miniature portable mass spectrometer to detect and quantify opioids and analogues,” she says. The spectrometer is used to test the composition of the drugs brought in daily by users to the SIS. The team has adapted it to identify 22 different drugs that may taint injectable drug samples.
Leonard and her team, a partnership between the community, health care providers, chemists and social science researchers guided by a Community Advisory Committee, share the results of their research regularly with the people who need it the most: those who use and inject drugs, the health and legal communities and policy decision makers. Sharing their findings has resulted in positive changes in behaviour among individual users, such as reducing their dose or alerting others to unsafe drug supplies. “For example, the purity of the drugs now available on the streets has significantly increased,” says Leonard.
For these efforts in turning knowledge into practice, Leonard, along with professors Ryan Katz-Rosene of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Patrick O’Byrne of the Faculty of Health Sciences (whose work is described below), have each received a University of Ottawa Knowledge Mobilization Excellence Award, one of a number of knowledge mobilization initiatives established by the Office of the Vice-President, Research.
“The award honours early, mid-career and established researchers who have been successful and innovative in promoting the use of research beyond academia,” says Sylvain Charbonneau, uOttawa’s vice-president, research. “I congratulate our recipients on the efforts made to share their research results, thus allowing different communities to benefit from knowledge usually not accessible to them.”
As for Katz-Rosene, he is working with farmers, thought leaders from civil society and fellow researchers on a project focused on the sustainability of the agri-food system and the role of different protein foods (meat, dairy, legumes, insects, etc.) in achieving global food security and sustainable development. “The project seeks to examine the leading approaches to the complex challenge of producing a more environmentally friendly, ethically and culturally appropriate, and nutritionally fulfilling global diet,” he says.
Katz-Rosene has launched several knowledge mobilization initiatives. They include a short documentary film on the main approaches to the future of protein sustainability, serving as a guest speaker for the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum Food for Thought lecture series, producing seven policy and information briefs for government and agri-food practitioners and hosting a research showcase as part of the Alex Trebek Forum for Dialogue. These initiatives have already had a wide-ranging impact on a number of knowledge-user communities, from fellow researchers to farmers and agri-food practitioners. Knowledge users have learned about the complexity and merits of diverse approaches to this multifaceted problem and have started changing their procurement policies and practices.
O’Byrne and his team have conducted epidemiological studies with Ottawa Public Health, undertaken research with persons living or affected by STIs and tested interventions in clinical settings, all in support of his research on the prevention, diagnosis and management of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV.
“My research team, in partnership with Ottawa Public Health, undertook a research review of the local epidemiology of syphilis and identified an outbreak,” says O’Byrne. “In 2000, the rates of syphilis were so low the U.S. Centers for Disease Control stated that syphilis could be eradicated by 2005. In contrast, we observed a 400% increase in syphilis in Ottawa between 2014 and 2019, confirming our clinical suspicion.”
According to O’Byrne, the impact of his team’s research has been striking. Since the team started studying the outbreak in 2018, there has been an increase in testing and a slight decrease in the rates of syphilis in Ottawa — a first in five years. Their research partnership with Ottawa Public Health has not only identified a local infectious disease outbreak, but it has provided effective solutions for mitigation by developing, testing and mobilizing resources to help local health care providers in their practice.
To learn more about these knowledge mobilization initiatives, register for the following virtual chats:
Virtual chat featuring Patrick O’Byrne, Monday, June 22
Virtual chat featuring Lynne Leonard, Monday, June 29
Virtual chat featuring Ryan Katz-Rosene, Monday, July 6.
In addition to the Knowledge Mobilization Excellence Awards, the University has awarded six Knowledge Mobilization Grants to the following uOttawa research centres and institutes:
- Centre for International Policy Studies (CIPS)
- Centre for Research on Educational and Community Services (CRECS)
- Institute for Science, Society and Policy (ISSP)
- Life Research Institute (LRI)
- Centre for Advanced Material Research (CAMaR)
- Centre de recherche en civilisation canadienne-française (CRCCF)