Mental Health and Addiction: a Light at the End of the Tunnel

3 min
Didier Jutras-Aswad

Having known people with mental health problems, Dr. Didier Jutras-Aswad decided to devote his life to research in this field. During his postdoctoral training at the CHUM, he was exposed to an urban clientele that sometimes struggled with drug addiction in addition to mental health disorders. This ignited a spark in him. His goal: to prevent cases such as these from falling through the cracks.

He therefore completed a fellowship at New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine with Yasmin Hurd, whose research focuses on psychotoxicomania, the neurobiological features underlying addiction disorders and related psychiatric illnesses. 

There’s a lot of catching up to do to support people struggling with addiction because the healthcare network has not been conceived with their reality in mind, and there are many disorders for which there is no treatment — Dr. Didier Jutras-Aswad

Today, as head of the Department of Psychiatry and a psychiatrist in the Addiction Psychiatry Service at the CHUM, he and his research team are fully committed to improving treatment options for people with mental health disorders who also struggle with addiction. His goal is to raise public awareness of the need to use cannabis responsibly.

Towards Better Management

In the summer of 2022, his research group received nearly $5 million in funding over four years from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to conduct clinical trials on the management of methamphetamine use disorder. 

Methamphetamine is a highly addictive substance, associated with numerous mental health problems. Its effects are devastating, both for the individual and those around them, notes Dr. Jutras-Aswad.

This pan-Canadian study of over 400 patients will evaluate the addition of a high-dose stimulant and contingency approach, alone and in combination, to the psychosocial interventions usually offered for methamphetamine use disorder.

Dr. Jutras-Aswad and his team are also interested in cannabis and are studying it on two levels. On the one hand, they are developing a mobile application that can be used to carry out interventions to combat cannabis dependence.

On the other, they are investigating the psychological and biological impact of cannabis on humans in the laboratory, for example, by carrying out standardized cognitive tests and taking blood samples from supervised users. The data collected will help public health authorities in their decision and policy making 

Greater Flexibility in Providing Care

The summer of 2022 was a particularly prolific one for Dr. Jutras-Aswad and his team. During this time, they also unveiled the first results of OPTIMA, a pan-Canadian study comparing the efficacy of two models of care to treat opioid dependence, which leads to intoxication or death.

A cohort of 270 volunteers in seven Canadian hospitals was divided into two groups and monitored over 24 weeks. The first group received methadone, which is taken under pharmacy supervision, and the second took the drug Suboxone, which can be done at home. 

We have shown that the more flexible approach is just as effective and requires fewer resources. It seems safe and useful. It provides another option for people with opioid use disorders, says Dr. JutrasAswad.

This portrait is taken from our 2022-2023 Activity Report

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Mental Health and Addiction: a Light at the End of the Tunnel



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