Issue 2 2017

Pathways — the UBC Faculty of Medicine’s digital magazine — shares stories about learning, discovery and innovation that are making a difference in B.C. communities and around the world. Discover the impact of our global-leading health research and education.

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Working Together

British Columbia is in the midst of a public health crisis due to dramatically increased numbers of opioid overdose deaths, with nearly 1,000 in 2016 and higher numbers in 2017.

And across Canada, one in five young people aged 15-24 report experiencing mental illness or substance use problems.

What more can be done to tackle these alarming statistics and address the public health needs of our communities?

The key lies in working together and engaging a wide range of voices – including those at UBC’s Faculty of Medicine.

Home to international leaders in mental health and addictions research and education, their work will help lead us out of this crisis.

The Faculty’s Strategic Plan: Building the Future commits to social accountability by putting the patient first, addressing the social determinants of health and disease, and reducing population health inequities and access in B.C., particularly amongst Indigenous people. These goals are highly relevant to the current crisis.

Today, most addictions treatment is provided in primary care settings, making it essential that we equip family physicians to provide care. But it’s not enough. Recent data from overdose deaths in Vancouver found that most of those who died accessed a hospital emergency department in the year prior to death, but less than half of the visits were for overdoses. Whether they are treating ankle fractures, pneumonia or appendicitis, every health care provider must be able to recognize addiction in their patients and either provide or ensure linkage to treatment.

Recognizing the challenge, the Faculty of Medicine must incorporate the fundamentals of addiction care, including harm reduction services, into its undergraduate and graduate curriculums. The Faculty has started on this path and is training future generations of health professionals in areas of greatest need. And, through a recent collaboration with the BC Centre on Substance Use, new online educational resources are available to better prepare physicians in practice.

Aboriginal men and women are over-represented among those impacted by the opioid overdose crisis. The new UBC Indigenous Cultural Safety Interdisciplinary Learning Experience – that will provide students with the opportunity to learn about diversity and cultural humility in practice – is a necessary and important step to begin to reduce these, and other, health inequities in the Aboriginal population. Cultural safety training should also be encouraged for all alumni.

Investment in prevention is also desperately needed. Trauma occurring in the early years of brain development increases the risk of future mental illness and addiction. The Faculty’s Human Early Learning Partnership has mapped early childhood vulnerability across BC, laying the groundwork for prevention efforts. This requires advocating for an integrated system of quality child care, poverty reduction, and affordable housing.

In the end, it will take great leadership and innovation from a wide range of disciplines to effect real change. The Faculty of Medicine is well positioned to play a leading role.

Patricia Daly

Patricia Daly MD, FRCPC

Chief Medical Health Officer, Vancouver Coastal Health


Story team:

UBC Faculty of Medicine Communications team — Katie White, Alison Liversage, Kerry Blackadar, Sarah Stenabaugh, Patricia Gray, Brian Kladko and Jacqueline Wong.

Special thanks to our story partners for their support:

Kevin Hollett, BC Centre on Substance Use; Jayde Boden and Leah Lockhart, Foundry; Houston White, UBC communications & marketing. Photography by Paul Joseph, Don Erhardt, Geoff Lister and Sonya Kruger. Design by Signals Design Group.

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