Editorial: Evan Wood – bringing change to addiction medicine

published on November 27, 2015 by Tony Kirby in The Lancet

Evan Wood had not thought much about a career in medicine having studied geography, but an assignment to chart the diffusion of HIV around Vancouver, Canada, got him hooked on clinical epidemiology. Today Wood is Professor of Medicine at the University of British Columbia and a leader of addiction medicine at St Paul’s Hospital and the local health authority in Vancouver, where he works to improve systems of care for patients with addictions. As Wood points out, “Addiction science has gotten so far ahead of what the health system actually delivers in terms of care. There are huge problems providing quality addiction care, even understanding what it actually is, as well as a massive shortage of trained health-care providers.” Alongside these roles, he’s also Co-Director of the Urban Health Research Initiative and Founder of the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy at the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE).

Wood’s interest in addiction medicine grew out of his PhD at the University of British Columbia on how best to provide antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) to treat HIV in people who inject drugs (IDUs). “We managed to break the myth that somehow HIV treatment would not be effective in IDUs,” he says. “The prediction that there would be many IDUs transmitting resistant strains through unsafe sex and sharing needles never materialised,” he explains. Wood later published the first study of HIV treatment as prevention in this population. According to Jeffrey Samet, Editor of Addiction Science & Clinical Practice, “Evan’s dogged effort to assess the impact of harm reduction measures for HIV-infected injection drug users is notable; he is the foremost researcher in North America on these matters.” Samet, who is also Professor of Medicine and Community Health Sciences at Boston University Schools of Medicine and Public Health, adds that “perhaps what distinguishes his remarkable career the most is the energy and effectiveness he has had as an advocate while maintaining scientific objectivity and integrity about the issues for which he studies”.

That focus on research and advocacy was apparent after Wood completed his PhD in 2003 and became Assistant Professor at BC-CfE and the University of British Columbia. It was the same year that Health Canada provided funding to set up Insite, Canada’s first supervised injection centre for IDUs, with Wood as a founding principal investigator. He established the research protocols for the evaluation, which ultimately proved the life-saving value of Insite and helped prevent the Canadian Federal Government’s attempt to close it for political reasons. Wood then began medical school at the University of Calgary, juggling this work with his research commitments, and directed his career towards addiction.

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