Evidence continues to show that young people, ages 15-24, remain at significant risk of harms from non-medical opioid use and opioid use disorder (OUD), with experts calling for widespread implementation of developmentally-appropriate interventions. These recommendations include the involvement of caregivers in the prevention, early intervention, and treatment of young people using opioids. However, little research has investigated caregivers’ experiences supporting young people, leaving critical gaps in understanding this role. The aim of this study is to explore caregivers’ experiences accessing opioid use treatments with young people and their needs and ideas for improving such treatments.
This study reports qualitative findings from Phase 1 of the Improving Treatment Together project, a multi-phase, multi-site community-based participatory study broadly aimed at co-designing opioid use treatments to improve the experiences and outcomes of young people using non-medical opioids. During Phase 1, a total of 27 caregivers (parents, guardians) participated in full-day workshops that were conducted in three communities in British Columbia, Canada. Following human-centred co-design methods, caregivers engaged in small and large group discussions of their experiences, needs, and ideas for improving opioid use treatments for young people. Discussions were audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim, and thematically analysed.
Across communities, caregivers’ main experiences were defined as ‘becoming our young people’s case managers’ and ‘enduring a never-ending rollercoaster’. To improve these experiences, two needs themes were identified – expanding organizational and system-level capacity and wider-spread understanding of opioid use as a health issue. Caregivers brainstormed a total of 378 individual ideas to meet these needs, several of which spanned multiple needs themes.
Caregivers’ experiences, needs, and ideas reveal critical opportunities for improving the quality of interventions for opioid use among young people. This study represents a substantial contribution to the design and implementation of developmentally-appropriate and family-centred interventions for young people using opioids.

© 2022. The Author(s).