June 14, 2024

Addictions research receives $4M boost to improve practice and policy across the country

CIHR funding recognizes 'value add' of Canadian Research Initiative in Substance Misuse
David Hodgins
David Hodgins Monique de St. Croix

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) has awarded the Canadian Research Initiative in Substance Misuse (CRISM) a $4-million operating grant to further research that’s improving addictions practice and policy across the country. Initially formed in 2015, CRISM includes thousands of members across Canada — researchers, service providers, policy-makers, and people with lived experience of substance use — who are organized in five regional “nodes:” in B.C., the Prairies, Ontario, Quebec, and Atlantic Canada. 

The latest funding will help CRISM share information across the country, says Dr. David Hodgins, PhD, head of both the Addictive Behaviours Lab in the Department of Psychology in the Faculty of Arts, and CRISM’s Prairie Node. 

“We've been operating essentially as five separate nodes with lots of collaboration and co-operation,” he says. “This additional funding is to work better and more collaboratively. It will help CRISM be a truly national organization.” 

Much of CRISM’s work is providing evidence to support people using opioids and other illicit drugs, which Hodgins calls “an ongoing public health crisis.” In Alberta in 2023, at least 1,706 people died of opioid overdoses — four people a day. Hodgins and his team have found strong evidence for “dual treatment” for opioid use disorder, employing methadone or another medication to replace the person’s use of opioids. But many treatment programs still focus on abstinence, where the client is encouraged to “quit everything.”

Testing interventions in the Addictive Behaviours Lab.

Testing interventions in the Addictive Behaviours Lab.

Ashley Ethier

Hodgins and his team at the Prairie Node surveyed residential treatment programs across the country and found that most were not philosophically opposed to using medication and were “very supportive” of dual treatment, even though very few of their clients receive it.

“We are trying to increase the amount that this pharmacological treatment is provided to people attending these psychological treatment programs,” he says. “We've put together guidance documents to help programs that would like to do a better job which provides advice that we've garnered from the more successful programs.” 

CRISM has also developed clinical practice guidelines on a variety of topics including treating people with alcohol use disorder as well as producing low-risk cannabis use guidelines for people to understand how much they can use and be reasonably safe. 

CRISM researchers are publishing their work in journals but aim to make the information more accessible to people on the frontlines of treating addictions. “Academic publications are not particularly well suited at disseminating information that service providers and policy-makers can readily use,” he says. “So, we take the information and make it available in ways that it's more likely to be impacting programs.”

UCalgary’s Addictions Behaviour Lab has been directly involved in this research and CRISM also benefits from the Prairie Node’s close ties with iPath (integrated pathway from addiction to health), a Hotchkiss Brain Institute initiative that facilitates collaboration among researchers across UCalgary who work “directly or indirectly in the addictions area” and community members. iPath aims to improve service delivery for individuals and families navigating Calgary’s addictions treatment resources. 

With this latest round of CIHR funding, CRISM will meet a number of concrete goals. “We generate meaningful results that have clear implications for practice prevention and intervention,” says Hodgins. “This funding is really in recognition of the fact that we're perceived as very value added.”


David Hodgins is a professor in the Department of Psychology, Faculty of Arts, and an adjunct professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM). He is a member of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute and The Mathison Centre for Mental Health Research & Education at the CSM.

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