Illicit Drug Use and Unmet Healthcare Needs In Ontario: An Exploratory Study

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Russell, Christopher Z.
Cannabis use , Access to healthcare , Drug decriminalization , Drug legalization , Stigma , Mental Health
Purpose: The purpose of this research is to investigate the disparities in access to healthcare and unmet healthcare needs among the illicit drug using population in Ontario, and to determine if the decriminalisation of recreational cannabis consumption had any significant effects on the unmet healthcare needs of the cannabis-using population. Methods: Data from the 2017-2018 and 2019-2020 Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) cycles were used to perform this study. Analysis included descriptive statistics of the variables used and bivariate analysis with chi-square tests. Bivariate analyses are used to determine the most commonly reported reasons for unmet healthcare needs among people who use illicit drugs (PWUDs). This study also involved the creation of several logistic regression models. These models are used to investigate the relationship between illicit drug use and unmet healthcare needs, as well as how unmet healthcare needs changed across years. Results: The results of this study support previous research that shows a significant relationship between illicit drug use and unmet healthcare needs. PWUDs and those who use cannabis specifically were more likely to have unmet healthcare needs for reasons relating to acceptability and accessibility issues when compared to the non drug-using population. Cannabis use was also found to be more strongly associated with unmet healthcare needs and healthcare avoidance in the 2017-2018 cycle of the CCHS than it was in the 2019-2020 cycle. Conclusions: Illicit drug use is strongly associated with many aspects of unmet healthcare needs within the Ontario population, and this association appears to have weakened over time among cannabis users after the drug was legalised. These results indicate a continued need for improving the ability of illicit drug users to access healthcare. Further research is required to determine if there is a direct link between cannabis legalisation and a relative reduction in unmet healthcare needs and healthcare avoiding behaviours.
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