Riley Brandt, University of Calgary
Nov. 3, 2017
UCalgary substance abuse expert urges compassion and science-based response to growing drug problem
Jacqueline Smith, BN’09, PhD’15, assistant professor at the Faculty of Nursing at the University of Calgary, has devoted her life’s work to the education, prevention and early intervention research around adolescent and young adult substance abuse and its impact on the family.
In addition to her role at the nursing faculty, Smith is a sessional instructor at the Faculty of Social Work and is an associate member at both the Mathison Centre and the Alberta Children's Hospital Research Institute at the Cumming School of Medicine.
For nine years, she worked at the Alberta Adolescent Recovery Centre (AARC) as a family counsellor and educator and more recently as the director of community education and research. Her current research promotes mental health and well-being for children and families. She is currently serving as vice-president of the Canadian Chapter of the International Nurses Society of Addiction, a member of the Board of Directors for the Calgary Fetal Alcohol Network, and she also sits on the advisory committee for Drug Free Kids Canada.
On Oct. 31, Calgary Police Services Chief Constable Roger Chaffin visited campus to personally present Smith with the Community Service Award, pictured above. Chaffin says he introduced this new award category in his Chief’s Awards to recognize those who “go above and beyond to help make the community safer and make a difference in people’s lives” and Smith receives the inaugural honour for her work with AARC and her continued work in the community. All citizens honoured with a Chief’s Award are presented with the Award of Exceptional Recognition, which recognizes an outstanding act of courage or the rendering of valuable assistance to the Calgary Police Services in the preservation of law and order.
“The issues of addictions in people’s lives right now are tragic; the stories are horrific and there are negative outcomes. The leadership that Jackie has shown, I think, is the kind of work that makes a huge difference in the lives of Calgarians,” says Chaffin.
In light of her recognition, we spoke with Smith about her research, the opioid crisis, legalization of marijuana, and what’s happening around campus in relation to mental health and addictions.
Q: What did your previous work with AARC involve and how did you collaborate with Calgary Police?
A: [At AARC], I would run community education workshops every other month to address issues around adolescent substance use and abuse. Some of the topics covered were marijuana and the developing adolescent brain, the opioid crisis, crystal meth, the impact on adolescents and gang violence and its connection to substance abuse. I really wanted to bring the community together because substance abuse is a community problem. Calgary Police Services were invited to participate in every event as stakeholders who are invested in community awareness, education and prevention. Between 100 to 150 people attended each of the workshops. It was a great opportunity to create community partnerships and to bring the issues to the forefront.
Q: Given all the debate about the minimum age limit for marijuana legalization, what’s unique to know about addictions in youth compared to adults?
A: The brain continues to develop until the mid-20s. Any drug that enters the system competes or makes vulnerable that brain development. Drugs and alcohol can hijack the teen brain. [Alberta] is proposing the age of 18 in its framework. As an academic and nurse scientist, I disagree. I align with the minimum age of 21 rationale because of the science behind the developing adolescent brain. I believe that this is an opportunity to open up the conversation around age of legalization for substance use.
Riley Brandt, University of Calgary
Q: How successful is Alberta in responding to the cannabis legalization and opiod crisis issues right now?
A: Alberta Health Services (AHS) has a nurse practitioner, Amy Woroniuk, BN’04, who is the provincial harm reduction co-ordinator. Amy has played an integral role in addressing the opioid crisis. Our health-care system is standing up to what’s being proposed within the Alberta framework for marijuana legalization. AHS is suggesting a minimum age of 21 for recreational marijuana purchases — and proposes the province use future legislation as an "opportunity" to consider raising the ages to 21 for tobacco and liquor.
Q: You often talk about compassion when dealing with addictions and mental health. Can you elaborate?
A: Compassion is not a common word in conversations surrounding addiction. But it’s really needed right now especially amid our opioid crisis. Two-thirds of the deaths are happening in suburban communities. Addiction is an equal opportunity disease that can impact any family. We need to move past the stigma and look at these people as human beings who deserve compassionate health-care services. Addiction is not a crime; we have to consider the social determinants of health and social inequalities, which also make this a public health issue.
Q: You were recently named the Faculty of Nursing liaison to the Campus Mental Health Strategy and Wellness Centre. What will this role encompass?
A: As a university, we are very invested in the continuation of addiction and mental health research to continue to support our young people. Dr. Andrew Szeto, director of the UCalgary Campus Mental Health Strategy and I are already working on a few projects together. There’s a strong connection between my research in addiction and mental health and the strategy. I look forward to interdisciplinary collaborations that support educational programs and policies to inform safe alcohol and substance use (including harm reduction strategies) for the University of Calgary.
Next spring, the Faculty of Nursing is hosting a conference for academics, health-care professionals and community groups around youth addictions. Smith will present with researchers from the University of Maryland School of Public Health and University of Minnesota.
For more information about the Campus Mental Health Strategy, visit here. If you think you need help, please visit resources here. If you think someone you know needs help, find more information here.