Stephanie Lake

With a love for social epidemiology, Stephanie Lake is pursuing her doctoral degree to focus on the implications impending legalization of cannabis in Canada may have on the growing opioid crisis. She is the recipient of a 2017 Pierre Elliott Trudeau doctoral scholarship. One of Stephanie's supervisors, Dr. M-J Milloy, says, "I am thrilled to see Stephanie honoured by the Trudeau Foundation, not only because her research tackles a difficult scientific question but also because it holds the potential to directly impact government policy and contribute to the public health response to the overdose crisis.”

Research Topic

Exploring the health and social impacts of cannabis use during an ongoing opioid crisis among people who use illicit drugs in Vancouver, Canada

Research Group

BC Centre on Substance Use

Research Description

Canadians are suffering from unprecedented rates of morbidity and mortality related to the use of opioids (i.e. prescription-grade painkillers and heroin). Exacerbated by the emergence of novel forms of high-potency opioids such as illicit fentanyl, fatal drug overdoses were declared a public health emergency in the province of British Columbia in 2016. In light of the planned legalization of cannabis in Canada, intriguing preliminary evidence has demonstrated that cannabis may serve an important role in reducing opioid use and related morbidity and mortality among people suffering from chronic non-cancer pain. However, it is unclear what effect cannabis legalization might have on people living with or at risk of HIV with long-term experience using illicit opioids. In the context of high rates of opioid-related suffering among people who use illicit drugs in British Columbia, my research aims to explore the link between access to/use of cannabis, use of opioids, health service utilization, and drug-related morbidity (e.g. overdose and injury) among a large population of people who use drugs in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside neighbourhood. Findings from this research can be used to inform clinical practices surrounding opioid and cannabis prescribing among high-risk drug using populations, community-based harm reduction programming, and the implementation and evaluation of the Canadian cannabis legalization framework.

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

Vancouver is at the forefront of progressive HIV/AIDS and drug policy, and UBC is home to some of North America’s leading public health researchers in addiction, HIV/AIDS, and harm reduction. The applied statistics and epidemiology courses offered through the School of Population and Public Health, coupled with the clinical and methodological expertise of my supervising committee, Drs. Jane Buxton (UBC SPPH and BCCDC), M-J Milloy (UBC Faculty of Medicine, BCCSU), and Thomas Kerr (UBC Faculty of Medicine, BCCSU), aligned perfectly with my training goals.

 

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

I wanted to pursue a research-based degree to contribute to closing the gap between scientific evidence and public policy on issues related to substance use, which is often rooted in criminalization and stigmatization rather than public health. I completed a Master’s degree in population health at UBC, where I examined the rising trend of prescription opioid (painkiller) injection and assessed the associated risk of overdose among people who use illicit drugs in Vancouver. Having gained a love for social epidemiology throughout my Master’s degree, I decided to continue as a doctoral student, switching my focus to cannabis after learning of the potential for cannabis to substitute opioids – this project seemed both practical and necessary given the growing provincial opioid crisis and the impending legalization of cannabis in Canada. 

What advice do you have for new graduate students?

Reach out to other students in your program/department - especially outside of class time! Some of my closest friends are people I met in the first few weeks of my Master's program at UBC. 

 
 

Stephanie is an outstanding student who combines her exceptional academic ability with a commitment to mentoring and advocacy. She is an independent and compassionate young scientist who will influence future drug policy. - Professor Jane Buxton