Skilled addiction care training urgently needed in B.C.

published on August 17, 2016

Report offers key recommendations to bridge addiction care gaps

Vancouver, B.C. [August 17, 2016] Medical professionals trained in addiction medicine are in short supply across Canada, including British Columbia. The B.C. Node of the Canadian Research Initiative on Substance Misuse (CRISM), has published recommendations to address the growing problem in this province.

The study entitled “A Needs Assessment of the Number of Skilled Addiction Care Providers Required in British Columbia“ was published in the July-August 2016 issue of the Journal of Addiction Medicine. It analyzed data from B.C.’s health authorities, taking into account the number of people who are categorized as having high-risk substance use problems in contrast to the number of available trained local care providers in each region. Researchers created a provider availability index for each health authority using the same criteria. The report found significant inconsistencies in provider availability across health authorities, demonstrating an urgent need for evidence-based addiction care, research and training.

Using the registry of the American Board of Addiction Medicine (ABAM) accredited physicians ““ no formal system of accreditation currently exists within Canada ““ the researchers identified only 25 formally trained addiction care providers in British Columbia. At the time the study was conducted, Northern and Island Health Authorities had no ABAM-certified addiction trained providers while Interior and Fraser Health Authorities had only three and two respectively. There is a clear need for addiction-specific training and education to increase addiction competency among health care providers in these regions. With support from the B.C. Ministry of Health, the team behind the report is actively working to improve training for addiction care providers provincially.

“By investing in addiction treatment training today and early screening and intervention tools for health care providers, we can more effectively prevent and treat substance use disorders,” said Dr. Seonaid Nolan, Assistant Professor of Medicine (UBC), research scientist at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE), and addiction medicine physician at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver. “Increasing availability of evidence-based care is going to require investments in health care provider education.”

The report recommends:

  1. Increasing the number of skilled addiction care providers, particularly in underserved areas with an emphasis on primary care providers delivering this care.
  2. Investing in B.C.’s medical school curricula, residencies and continuing medical education for physicians, nurses and allied health professionals in addiction diagnosis, treatment and recovery.
  3. Offering a range of options for formal recognition of advanced training in addiction medicine ““ fellowships, diplomas, certificates, etc.
  4. Providing addiction medicine education in B.C., including dedicated investments and clear post-graduation pathways for addiction care providers.

“When we compare the high burden of addiction in our society to the low numbers of trained service providers, primary care providers are extremely well positioned to provide evidence-based addiction care with the appropriate education and training in addiction medicine,” said Dr. Jan Klimas, a Postdoctoral Fellow with the Urban Health Research Initiative at the BC-CfE, Associate Director of the Canada Addiction Medicine Research Fellowship and the study’s lead author.

In a move towards addressing addiction medicine needs, the B.C. government has taken a leadership position by investing in the improvement of addiction care through the support of initiatives aimed at increasing the number of skilled addiction physicians as well as strategies to prevent and treat addiction. In August 2014, a $3-million investment was announced by the Government of B.C. in funding for the St. Paul’s Hospital Goldcorp Addiction Medicine Fellowship to strengthen primary care support through enhanced research, training and clinical care guidance in direct partnership with Dr. Evan Wood.