Family doctors should learn to treat addiction, not shun patients: expert

published on December 14, 2017 by Camille Bains The Canadian Press in Global News

Family doctors should be on the front lines of addiction treatment but many are unwilling to learn about substance use even as a national overdose crisis worsens, the head of medical education at Canada’s largest mental health teaching hospital says.

Dr. Peter Selby, in the addictions division of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), said stigma and discrimination prevent physicians from getting training to treat vulnerable patients who have become addicted to opioids such as heroin or those prescribed for pain relief.

“It comes from this core lack of understanding and training around helping people with addictions as a medical condition,” Selby said. “It’s still seen as something bad that people do.”

Selby said it’s no longer acceptable for doctors to say they don’t know enough about addiction treatment, which he added should be integrated into primary care so patients can be screened and switched to medications, such as methadone and suboxone, to reduce withdrawal symptoms.

“You’ve got a whole core of established physicians in Canada who refuse to accept patients with addiction, will not provide the evidence-based treatments,” Selby said. “And that leads to significant consequences, like overdoses and deaths.”

Health Canada said 2,816 people died across the country in 2016 of suspected opioid overdoses. Between January and March 2017, (the latest figures available) there were 602 fatalities. British Columbia alone recorded 1,208 deaths between January and October this year, up from 683 fatalities during the same period in 2016.

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