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Benedikt Fischer

Researcher aims to shape policy around substance abuse

September 17, 2008

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By Diane Luckow

Benedikt Fischer’s research into illicit substance abuse and its consequences for public health and policy is revealing startling new trends that have yet to reach the radar of public and mental health agencies.

"A lot of policy or everyday practice or intervention happens on a basis of outdated knowledge," says Fischer, recently recruited to SFU’s Faculty of Health Sciences from the University of Victoria. "We’re too often shooting at the wrong target."

Heroin has largely disappeared from many city streets, he says, replaced by prescription opioid analgesics (opium derivatives like codeine or oxycontin used in medical pain management) and crack cocaine. Even in the general population, prescription opioid abuse is becoming a problem. Another major issue for public health is cannabis, which one in seven Canadian adults use at least occasionally, and which can cause health problems or risk for injuries.

Fischer’s goal is to sound the alarm about what the major problems and challenges are around illicit substance use and to find ways to improve practices, interventions and policies. He works out of SFU’s Centre for Applied Research, Mental Health and Addictions (CARMHA) and also holds a Research Chair in Applied Public Health co-funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).

Joining the Faculty of Health Sciences, with its emphasis on working across disciplines, is one way to move his goal forward, he says.

"I work quite a bit with clinical people as well as basic scientists like virologists. It’s quite important that we collaborate on the key issues and I think that epitomizes the faculty’s philosophy, which is not to departmentalize but to integrate basic science, clinical science and social science."

"I was really attracted to the spirit and vision of the faculty," he adds. "It embodies on an institutional scale the kind of work I aspire to do."
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