British Columbia

Vancouver program paving the way in addiction training for health-care workers

A Vancouver-based program has grown into North America’s largest addiction medicine training program only six years into its run. Its founder says the program should be expanded across the province.

Almost 100 physicians, nurses, pharmacists have become specialists in addiction since 2013

Dr. Evan Wood says graduates of addiction medicine training are now working for health authorities across British Columbia. (CBC/Harold Dupuis)

A Vancouver-based program has grown into North America's largest addiction medicine training program only six years into its run.

Since 2013, 90 health-care providers have been trained to become experts in treating patients dealing with substance use through the Addiction Medicine Fellowship.

The director of the B.C. Centre on Substance Use says it's addressing a critical need.

"We know that physicians that are poorly trained can be unsafe with their prescribing of opioid and other medications," said program founder Dr. Evan Wood.

He says addiction patients don't receive the same level of care as patients with heart attacks who get immediately treated with medications, specialist appointments and counselling around diet and exercise.

"If somebody comes into the emergency department having had a near fatal overdose, they'll get resuscitated from the overdose and then they'll get shown the door."

Wood says the program has grown "dramatically" in the past four years to training, not just physicians, but a range of health-care providers including nurses, social workers and pharmacists.

Program not funded by province

Less than half of this year's 60 applicants were selected to receive the training, including family physicians like Dr. Sukhpreet Klaire who now has the expertise he needs to support his patients.

"All my patients who come in with any sort of addiction issue, I can provide them with the right medications, the right treatment, the right referrals that will help them through their substance use disorders."

Dr. Sukhpreet Klaire says realizing how widespread substance use issues were among his patients motivated him to apply for training to become an expert in addiction medicine. (CBC/Dillon Hodgin)

The one-year program costs around $85,000 per trainee and receives no provincial funding.

It was launched as a partnership between the Centre on Substance Use, St. Paul's Hospital and the University of British Columbia thanks to a $3 million donation by Goldcorp, Inc.

Most trainees are paid the equivalent of a year's salary by their regional health authority to complete the program.

Wood hopes the training will eventually receive government funding, so it can be offered across the province.

"If we don't invest in the training of health-care practitioners, like we do for other diseases, then that information just sits on the shelf, and it doesn't get employed in the health-care system."

In a statement, the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions recognized the work of the B.C. Centre on Substance Use in training addiction medicine specialists.

The ministry says it's working "to expand mental health and addictions care through the creation of primary care networks across B.C., as well as urgent and primary care centres."

With files from Ethan Sawyer and Tanya Fletcher


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