Pharmacists at the Forefront

Dr. Mona Kwong on how pharmacists can help improve the delivery of substance use care

“It all comes down to people needing help, but where do they go?”

Dr. Mona Kwong, a Vancouver-based pharmacist and Pharmacy Advisor with BC Centre on Substance Use, says that addressing this problem for people who use substances is the driver behind her work and goal to rethink traditional community care practices.

“My question has always been, ‘Why can’t the pathways be navigated easier with this area of their health?’” she says. “Is it an issue people not knowing where to seek medical help, or is it an issue of clinicians not knowing how to help?”

People who use substances often experience frustration with the barriers they face when trying to access to help that they need. Kwong believed these challenges boil down to stigma and siloed systems of care.

“We can’t divide roles as ‘doctors do this, nursing can only do this, and social workers and pharmacists can’t do that’,” Kwong says. “Now we're beginning to see registered nurses prescribing [opioid agonist treatment]. The traditional ways of practicing healthcare need to evolve, and we're seeing that slowly start to change.”

Kwong first became involved in addiction care during the HIV and overdose epidemic in the 1990s. That’s when she saw the immense benefits her patients experienced when trust and guidance were placed at the forefront of her pharmacy practice. She quickly began educating and training her fellow colleagues and students in substance use treatment and how to develop care goals in partnership with their patients.

“I wanted to set up an environment rather than an institution,” she explains. “Community pharmacy is where the hub is. It’s where people can come and ask questions. It’s where you get to know your patients over a period of time.”

Kwong is a community-based primary care pharmacist and a pharmacist consultant at Infinity Medical Specialists Clinic. She’s already made strides to addressing gaps in care by helping to update policies and bylaws surrounding medications and the role of community pharmacists during the current overdose crisis.

In addition, she works to improve the delivery of evidence-based practice, including through her clinical, educational, and research contributions to the BCCSU. Her work includes supporting guideline development, guidance in the creation of educational programs, and contributions to training programs like the BC ECHO on Substance Use. She’s also leading the newly established Addiction Pharmacy Fellowship at the BCCSU – the first of its kind in Canada.

It all adds up to building better relationships, for better patient outcomes, between pharmacists, care teams, and people who use substances.

Kwong plans to continue her work in advocacy in policy reform. She also hopes to partner with more organizations to help support other pharmacists and trainees in their understanding of the complexities related to substance use.

Ultimately, Kwong says she’s happy whenever she gets to tackle difficult problems and give people tools to make sense of otherwise complicated systems.

“I just love solving puzzles,” she says. Helping people better be able to navigate the substance use system of care is the biggest puzzle of them all.