February 23, 2021

Addressing the Unique Needs of Young Adults in Addictions Care by Creating a Program Built Especially for Them

St. Joe’s Launches new Young Adult Substance Use Program Aimed at Helping more than 600 Youth Thanks in part to a $600,000 Gift from the Marta & Owen Boris Foundation

February 23, 2021 – HAMILTON, ON – 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.

A 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.

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.

“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.”

Mackenzie is one of the young adults who was asked to provide feedback on what St. Joe’s could do to further engage youth and encourage them to stick with their recommended care program. Mackenzie says, “services targeted towards young adults are often overlooked and presenting them in an engaging, culturally sensitive manner ensures that they will feel safe and supported.”

Based on national and international consultations around best practices, the Young Adult Substance Use Program will feature:

⦁ Young-adult centred care in a safe(r) space that cares for the whole person
⦁ A sensitive approach to the complex life changes youth may be facing, including adult relationships, changes in living arrangements, and growing independence.
⦁ A multi-disciplinary team with expertise in social work, community support, nursing, addiction psychology, psychiatry and clinical research.
⦁ Personalized virtual or in-person touchpoints with care providers which can be done using a laptop or smartphone for accessibility, or in-person if privacy at home is hard to find.
⦁ A combination of one-on-one and group-based support during a 12-week program.
⦁ Measurement-based care that uses a patient’s profile and progress to provide a personalized approach to treatment.
⦁ Education and help for loved ones since many times youth are referred for treatment either by their school, friends or family members

Making changes to the way healthcare is delivered can take time and often requires investment above and beyond the operating dollars provided by the province. The Young Adult Substance Use Program was made possible thanks to donations to St. Joseph’s Healthcare Foundation, including a leadership gift of $600,000 from the Marta & Owen Boris Foundation. The Hospital and the Peter Boris Research Centre for Addictions Research are also contributing funds and resources to make the pilot program possible.


The Boris Family.

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.

“We know first hand how addiction can creep up on you,” says Jackie Work, speaking on behalf of the Boris Family. “Our brother Peter had the support he needed, and the love of our family, too. But at that time, there just wasn’t the body of knowledge on addictions that there is today. We weren’t able to help him overcome his battle with addiction. We hope this gift, and the program it’s funding may help to change that outcome for other families like ours, families with a loved one who is struggling,” says Ms. Work.

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, will be integrating research with the delivery of care in the new YA-SUP program. That research will examine how these changes to the patient care delivery model are helping help to increase engagement and, more importantly, increase the effectiveness and impact.

According to Dr. MacKillop, “We have a small window of time at a pivotal point in young adults’ lives to intervene and develop healthy alternatives to substance use. Even using the current best-practices, it’s imperative that we listen to and learn from our patients to continuously improve the quality of the program and provide them with the very best chance of recovery. This new program is one more reason we’re deeply grateful to the Boris Family for their continued investment in addictions care and research at St. Joe’s.”


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