Elaine Hyshka: Approaching Substance Use through a Public Health Lens

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Elaine Hyshka's community engagement activities do not fall into the regular duties of most academics, yet she rarely misses an opportunity to increase understanding regarding harm reduction and supervised injection services, even if that means rearranging her schedule and/or catching up on her other responsibilities long after the work day has ended. This extra effort has paid off through tangible benefits and value to the community.

Elaine works tirelessly to improve the health of people dealing with problematic substance use locally, provincially, and nationally through engaged research and public health advocacy with dozens of partner organizations. Locally, she has been a core member of the Access to Medically Supervised Injection Services in Edmonton (AMSISE) coalition. AMSISE is comprised of 25 organizations and includes representatives from HIV Edmonton, Alberta Health Services, the City of Edmonton, Edmonton Police Services, and people with personal experience of homelessness and substance use. This coalition is working to prevent overdose death, HIV, and hepatitis C by establishing supervised injection services for people who inject drugs in Edmonton's inner city. Elaine is also Scientific Director of the Inner City Health and Wellness Program at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, where her applied program of health services and policy research engages clinicians, senior hospital leaders, patients, and community partners to implement changes to clinical practice and hospital policy that redefine the healthcare experience for people living with substance use disorders. She also actively serves on many local, provincial and national committees dedicated to mitigating substance-related harm.

Despite her early career status, Elaine's community engagement efforts are of significant duration, and have had a lasting impact. Her involvement with AMSISE began in 2012, after she completed a policy analysis (published in Addiction) outlining the implications of the Supreme Court of Canada's ruling on Vancouver's Insite for other Canadian cities attempting to open supervised injection services. Since then she has become a core member of the AMSISE working group and their lead researcher. In this role, she participates in regular meetings related to all aspects of the initiative, advises on scientific and policy issues related to supervised injection services, conducts applied research, and participates in regular knowledge translation activities. This included securing funding from Alberta Health and the City of Edmonton in 2014 to conduct the largest ever survey of people who use drugs in Edmonton. This project recruited 320 participants from the inner city and culminated in a 50 page report to Alberta Health last year.

Beyond this report, Elaine has passed her AMSISE research findings and broader knowledge onto the community through dozens of meetings, presentations and media interviews. Her research and expertise have also been highlighted in Maclean's magazine and by the Canadian Press, and through radio interviews across Canada - from Vancouver to St. John's. Elaine also shares her research and knowledge on the national level. In May 2016, she worked with the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, and the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy to help organize a national meeting on "Charting the Future of Drug Policy in Canada." The gathering featured international drug policy experts, opening remarks from the federal Minister of Health, and a presentation from Elaine on Western Canada's overdose epidemic. Later that year, she was invited to participate as a public health expert at a day-long roundtable meeting of Federal Cannabis Legalization Task Force.

At the School of Public Health's 10th anniversary celebration late last year, the Deputy Minister of Health, Carl Amhrein, called her a shining example of the bright future of faculty, and I couldn't agree more. Elaine is a promising early career academic who "walks the talk" when it comes to community engagement, putting evidence into policy and practice change, and improving the health of some of our city's most vulnerable citizens. The University of Alberta should be proud to count her as the newest Community Connections Scholar Award recipient in 2017.

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Kim Raine - Associate Dean (Research), School of Public Health

Kim Raine is Professor and Associate Dean (Research) in the School of Public Health. She is a big fan of community engaged research.

Community Connections Awards 2017

You can celebrate Elaine's achievement at the Community Connection Awards!

All are welcome to attend.

Date: Monday, May 15, 2017
Time: Noon - 1 p.m.
Where: City Hall

This post has been edited for length and clarity.