Evidence-Based Modelling to Address the Opioid Crisis

SFU researchers are using evidence-based simulations to improve access to harm reduction services for people with opioid use disorder (OUD)

In 2020 over 93,000 people in the United States died from opioid overdose – the most in recorded in a one-year period in according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. In 2021, the Canadian provinces of Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario each broke overdose records. However, policymakers struggle with how to address the opioid crisis. People with OUD often go without care due to harm reduction services that are either costly, inaccessible or ineffective, or controversial. Meanwhile, available evidence-based interventions are underutilized.

SFU professor of health sciences Bohdan Nosyk is working to improve access to harm reduction services for people who use opioids. In partnership with the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, Nosyk leads an ongoing study assessing the quality of care for people with OUD in British Columbia. In addition, he is part of the Opioid Use Disorder Modelling Group, which includes researchers from SFU, Weill-Cornell Medical College, Harvard University, the University of Toronto and the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.

Using simulation models to help guide and inform clinical and public health responses, Opioid Use Disorder Modelling Group proposes using evidence-based simulations to promote harm reduction, and to bring these findings to policy makers. The use of simulations to predict the outcome of various harm reduction strategies has a number of benefits. They can provide insight into health outcomes, economic costs, effects related to crime, housing, and other social factors. In addition, simulation models can simulate studies that may be controversial or prohibitively expensive to conduct.

“The reality is that the level of investment and research into studying opioid use disorder falls far short of the investment put into understanding and treating other diseases like HIV and cancer. Both of these diseases had large and successful collaborations with modelling groups, which advanced their science” says Nosyk.

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