PROMPT quit smoking program helps butt out drug use

Researchers say a quit smoking program is helping some of Ottawa's most vulnerable people also kick drug habits and improve their social and economic standing.

Project's first year shows improvement in addiction, but also housing and job situations

Respirologist Dr. Smita Pakhale led a research project in Ottawa that helped street-involved people cut back on smoking. Like most other smokers, said Pakhale, "the majority of them want to quit, have tried quitting and have failed quitting."

Researchers say a community program aimed at helping some of Ottawa's must vulnerable people quit smoking is also pushing them to kick drug habits.

Kelly Florence, a peer researcher at the project called PROMPT, said different kinds of addiction can go together.
PROMPT operates near the Shepherds of Good Hope in the ByWard Market. (Robyn Miller/CBC)

"If someone's drinking a lot they're going to smoke more. If someone's smoking more crack they're going to smoke more cigarettes. They kind of go hand in hand," said Florence.

"Now, if someone can reduce the hardest of these habits to quit or reduce, then the other ones kind of fall in like almost like a domino effect."

Program launched in March 2015

Dr. Smita Pakhalé said she launched the research program in the ByWard Market in March 2015 because even though Ottawa has one of the lowest smoking rates in Ontario at 12 per cent, major disparities exist within the population.

For example, 96 per cent of drug users are also smoking cigarettes and Pakhalé says that's what's killing them.
Kelly Florence is a peer researcher with the program. (Robyn Miller/CBC)

"Over 40 per cent of [people with HIV] are dying because of tobacco-related diseases," she said.

"So cancer, heart disease, srtoke, [the lung disease] COPD and such, nobody really kind of saw coming but it was sneaking through because most of the population smokes."

She said she designed PROMPT to better understand the barriers and facilitators of smoking among people who use drugs and are either homeless or living in insecure housing environments.

Research found that of the 80 participants, more than half followed up after five months.

'I'd probably be drunk on the sidewalk'

Pakhalé said that high percentage is because of work being done by peer researchers, who like the participants have struggled with homelessness and drug abuse.

Through the program they conduct intake interviews and follow-up meetings. They also facilitate sessions twice a week with an onsite nurse and hand out nicotine patches and other quitting tools.

"In this community space people still come because their peers are here," said Pakhalé.

"They get to talk to somebody, they have this space as their own space."

Ted Bignell said after 32 years of smoking he's now down to about six cigarettes a day, a huge feat for the 46-year-old who said because of this and other programs he's also cut back on alcohol.
Dr. Smita Pakhalé launched the Prompt program in March 2015. (Robyn Miller/CBC)

"I'd probably be drunk on the sidewalk somewhere without any of these programs," said Bignell.

"I'd be just sleeping at the Shepherds of Good Hope here because [I'd have] no place to be… I'd have to sleep it off somewhere and that's probably where I'd be still to this day."
Ted Bignell participated in the PROMPT program and said it helped with his drinking problem too. (Robyn Miller/CBC)

In addition to cutting back, drug use researchers said participants also showed improvement in their general, social and economic standing with some finding jobs, entering treatment programs and getting apartments.

"When you realize that you're fighting and succeeding against the hardest of all habits, the rest doesn't seem so hopeless," said Florence.

Program funding ended in March and researchers said they hope the program's success will help secure enough money to keep operating.