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Increasing knowledge

$100,000 investment for research to understand effects of alcohol policies

By Jeff Green

A researcher based in the School of Pharmacy is leading a study that’s benefitting from support from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Canadian Cancer Society.

Dr. Hai Nguyen, associate professor and Canada Research Chair (Tier 2) in Health Policy Evaluation and Health Care Sustainability, and his team is receiving $100,000 for a project titled, Behavioural and Health Effects of Alcohol Policy Changes During COVID-19 in Canada.

Collaborators include Drs. Shweta Mital, School of Pharmacy, Rick Audas, Faculty of Medicine and John Weber, School of Pharmacy.

Alcohol-related studies

On Thursday, April 21, Carolyn Bennett, minister of Mental Health and Addictions and associate minister of Health, announced nearly $2 million for 20 research projects across the country that will inform policies and interventions to reduce alcohol-related harms in Canada.

A number of people sit around a table and others are seen on monitors in front of the room.
Minister Bennett, centre, speaks with participants during meeting at Memorial.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Minister Bennett visited Signal Hill Campus to host an in-person and virtual meeting with the researchers and other recipients of funding from across the country. She was joined by Joanne Thompson, member of Parliament, St. John’s East, as well as other federal colleagues.

John Haggie, provincial minister, Health and Community Services, participated virtually.

“Memorial University has a record of world-class research that informs real-world decision making and policies.” — MP Joanne Thompson

Dr. Neil Bose, vice-president (research), and Dr. Shawn Bugden, dean, School of Pharmacy, also attended.

‘Critical support’

Standing in a hallway, Dr. Hai Nguyen wears a blue shirt and dark glasses.
Dr. Hai Nguyen
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Dr. Nguyen’s research will examine the impacts of COVID-19 pandemic-related changes in alcohol policies, such as deeming liquor retail sales as an essential service during the pandemic lockdowns, on the behaviour and health outcomes of Canadians.

This research will provide timely evidence on the effects of these policies to inform further action or policy decisions.

“The funding will provide us with critical support to conduct this timely research.” — Dr. Hai Nguyen

“It is important to understand the impacts that these alcohol policy changes had not only on alcohol consumption and use of other substances but also on mental health and other health outcomes of Canadians,” Dr. Nguyen told the Gazette during an interview.

“This evidence is especially important as provinces are currently considering whether to make these policy changes permanent. The funding will provide us with critical support to conduct this timely research.”

Supporting Canadians

Across the country, the funding will support projects examining interventions to prevent, treat, and reduce the harms of problematic alcohol use. In addition, researchers will investigate the effects of alcohol use and related health and psychosocial on specific populations and determinants of health.

“Alcohol use continues to be a significant risk to the health outcomes of individuals, families and communities,” Minister Bennett said in a release.

“Today’s investment will help our government inform policies to prevent and reduce alcohol-related harm, while giving us strategies to better support the health of people across Canada. Congratulations to the researchers, we look forward to putting the results of your important work into evidence-based policy and practices.”

Minister Bennett gestures her hands during meeting. Joanne Thompson, member of Parliament for St. John’s East is seated next to the minister.
From left Minister Bennett and MP Joanne Thompson.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

The funding will support projects that will evaluate policies, programs and practices that regulate alcohol and that have the potential to impact health.

“Memorial University has a record of world-class research that informs real-world decision making and policies,” Ms. Thompson noted.

“With this funding into Dr. Nguyen’s research, we will gain critical insight into how we can best support the health of Canadians as it relates to alcohol-related harms.”

‘High-quality research’

The research projects supported by the funding will also generate data and evidence that will increase the knowledge base on alcohol-related harms and how to prevent and treat them and inform future larger-scale research projects.

“Understanding the effects of alcohol on individuals and society is essential to develop appropriate programs and policies to support the health of all people in Canada,” said Dr. Samuel Weiss, scientific director, CIHR Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction.

“CIHR is pleased to support high-quality research that will generate the evidence to advance our understanding of alcohol use, foster alcohol-related research capacity and reduce the alcohol-related harms experienced by groups at increased risk.”

Six individuals are seen standing on a concrete staircase in two rows.
From left, first row: Dr. Mital, Minister Bennett and Dr. Bose. Top row: Dr. Bugden, Ms. Thompson and Shannon Nix, associate assistant deputy minister, Health Canada.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Research shows that alcohol use increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Data from the Chief Public Health Officer’s Report on the State of Public Health in Canada (2020) found that alcohol use rose 14 per cent during the first weeks of the pandemic and an additional 5.2 per cent by May 2020.

“Drinking alcohol raises an individual’s risk of developing at least six different types of cancer,” noted Stuart Edmonds, executive vice-president, mission – research and advocacy, with the Canadian Cancer Society.

“Research is critical to guide effective policies and interventions to increase people’s awareness of how alcohol increases the risk of cancer and to reduce alcohol consumption.”

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