A $600,000 Gift from the Marta & Owen Boris Foundation will fund a St Joes program aimed at reducing substance abuse among young people and at the same time researching the causes and potential treatments. In 2020 alone, more than 625 youth and young adults sought care in St. Joseph’s Psychiatric Emergency Services for overdoses and other substance use concerns. That number is projected to increase this year based on the overall increase in substance use during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even more alarming is that, despite the risks associated with substance use, many young people may see it as a lifestyle choice and an expression of their adulthood, meaning they’re less likely to seek help. Experimentation with substance use often begins in the teens and peaks in young adulthood. While most emerging adults grow out of risky use of alcohol, cannabis or other drugs, for others, it can become a lifelong battle against addiction.
The new pilot program at St. Joe’s aims to provide help early on so that young adults struggling with substance use can have the best chance possible of avoiding chronic substance abuse. Over the next three years, the Young Adult Substance Use Program (YA-SUP) will provide more than 600 youth and young adults aged 17 – 25 with evidence-based treatment for their substance use concerns.
Many leave recovery programs early
“It’s very concerning,” says Holly Raymond, Clinical Director, General Psychiatry and Addiction Services at
St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton. “Youth arrive at our emergency room after a frightening substance use episode, a physical attack or an arrest related to their substance-induced state, but once they’ve received initial treatment and are on the mend, they start missing follow up appointments or drop out of their community-based treatment program. So, as a care team, we started asking why.”
The project will be a combination of research and therapy aimed at understanding why some young people are able to outgrow risky substance abuse and others slide into a cycle of dependency. Dr. James MacKillop, an international addictions expert, the Peter Boris Chairholder and Director of the Peter Boris Centre for Addictions Research at St. Joe’s, says, “we have a small window of time at a pivotal point in young adults’ lives to intervene and develop healthy alternatives to substance use.”
Six years ago, a multi-million-dollar donation from the Boris Family established a centre for addictions research and an academic chair at St. Joe’s – both were named in memory of Marta & Owen’s youngest son, Peter, who succumbed to the effects of alcohol addiction at just 41 years of age.