VIU professor researching impacts of prenatal opioid exposure with First Nations communities

Dr. Serene Kerpan standing outside against a backdrop of greenery and smiling at the camera.

Dr. Serene Kerpan. Photo: Vancouver Island University

December 13, 2023 - 1:30pm

Dr. Serene Kerpan is the lead author of a nationally funded report.

Vancouver Island University (VIU) Kinesiology Professor Dr. Serene Kerpan is studying the impact of prenatal exposure to opioids and neonatal abstinence syndrome with First Nations communities.

Kerpan co-leads a research project that began after First Nations communities in Ontario raised concerns about the health of school-age children exposed to opioids prenatally. The group’s findings were recently published in a large, public report with Kerpan as the lead author.

Thirteen First Nations communities in Ontario participated in this research project. Data was compiled using existing health records from 2003 to 2019, as well as from focus groups and interviews. The project was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

“What I was most appreciative of was that so many First Nations were willing to participate,” said Kerpan. “Communities were willing to have the courage to meet this issue head-on and individuals with lived experience were willing to be interviewed about their personal experiences.”

Originally, the group was going to look at just the incident rate to provide participating communities with information about how many children were exposed, said Kerpan.

“In our meetings we realized it is not just about the incident rate; it’s also about how it’s impacting children, families, health-care providers, teachers and the community as a whole,” she said. “It is also about the strengths that are already being utilized in communities to address these issues. Lastly, we documented what strategies could be developed to further address the issue.”

She said the project is now moving into the next phase, where the research team works with communities to mobilize strategies that will support children, mothers and families impacted by prenatal opioid exposure.

Kerpan, who is a VIU alum, started the research while working at Ontario Tech University.

“We’ve been funded for round two, so I’ll be co-leading the project from here at VIU,” she said.

Kerpan plans to transition her research program to BC while continuing to do this work in Ontario.

“My plans are to start exploring what this research might look like here,” she said. “I haven’t lived in BC for almost two decades, so I have to re-orient myself to First Nations research here, and it might look very different. It is key that this research is community driven.”

To learn more about this research, read the full report.



Eric Zimmer, Communications Officer, Vancouver Island University

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Tags: Research

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