News / Vancouver

SFU study finds link between homelessness and medication adherence

Simon Fraser University researcher says antipsychotic medication adherence is low among homeless people being treated with serious mental illness.

Homeless people with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia are far less likely to adhere to their medication, a Simon Fraser University study has found.

A new study published in the journal Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology found that just 12 per cent of the 290 participants in Vancouver who had been homeless and mentally ill adhered to their antipsychotic medication enough for it to be clinically effective.

People who reported to be homeless for three years or more were twice as likely to have a low Medication Possession Ratio.

The study is the first to quantify the very low level of adherence to antipsychotic medication among homeless people and could be key to improving treatment and tackling homelessness.

Lead author Stefanie Rezansoff said that although people are diagnosed, are prescribed medication, have their costs covered and have access to many pharmacies in Vancouver, their illness and living situation makes it difficult for them to stick to treatment regimes.

As a result, people are less likely to treat their symptoms, their illness can worsen and they can be put further at risk.

“It’s quite possible it has a lot to do with being homeless. There’s nowhere to keep these medications and drugs can be stolen,” Rezansoff told Metro. “The chaos of being homeless makes adherence harder.”

There is a strong link between adherence to medication and long-term homelessness, the study found.

“Plausibly, homelessness and poor adherence to antipsychotic medication contribute to a vicious circle perpetuating poor outcomes among the homeless and mentally ill,” the study reads.

People with a history of psychiatric hospitalization and those who come into contact and access primary medical services fare better.

The study also found that long-acting injectable prescriptions were “significantly associated with higher adherence to antipsychotic regimens” and could, with better engagement through community-based medical care, make for more effective interventions.

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