Philip Owen Professorship in Addiction Medicine

Dr. Nadia Fairbairn is the inaugural Philip Owen Professor in Addiction Medicine at UBC. The newly established professorship—the first of its kind in Canada—will help close the evidence-to-practice gap to strengthen the addiction treatment system in British Columbia.

The Professorship is named after former Vancouver Mayor Philip Owen, who was in office from 1993 to 2002 and led the implementation of the Four Pillars drug strategy during the peak of the HIV epidemic and overdose crisis in the 1990s. The professorship is the first of its kind in Canada, and is made possible by donors who believe in the need to continue Owen’s legacy of leadership, courage, and innovation in the area of substance use and addiction.

The professorship was established in honour of former Vancouver Mayor Philip Owen and his commitment to addiction research, education, and training. During his time in office (1993-2002), Owen introduced a new approach to addiction known as the Four Pillars drug strategy, which represented a tectonic shift from treating substance use as a criminal justice issue towards a public health approach, with an equal focus on harm reduction, prevention, treatment, and enforcement. His efforts helped lead to the establishment of Insite, North America’s first sanctioned safe injection site.

The holder of the professorship will lead a program of research and education in addiction medicine to close the evidence-to-practice gap in the addiction system of care and improve the outcomes for British Columbians with substance use disorders.

The professorship is made possible by donors who believe in the need to continue Owen’s legacy of leadership, courage, and innovation in the area of substance use and addiction. Donors include: the Rix Family Foundation; Timothy C. Kerr Family Foundation; John C. Kerr Family Foundation; Peter Bull; the Conrad & Dorli Pinette Fund, held at Vancouver Foundation; and Vivian Trethewey. Their gifts through St. Paul’s Foundation have been matched by investments from UBC, the B.C. government, and BCCSU.

Dr. Nadia Fairbairn, MD, is a practicing internal physician specialist in addiction medicine and Physician Lead of the Addiction Medicine Consult Team at St. Paul’s Hospital; a Clinician Scientist at the BCCSU; and an Internal Medicine Fellow and Assistant Professor in the UBC Division of Social Medicine.

Her primary research interests include the development, evaluation, and implementation of pragmatic evidence-based strategies for addictions care in drug-using populations, as well as the development of strategies to reduce overdose and improve addiction treatment outcomes among people with opioid use disorders.

As a Clinician Researcher and Director of the International Collaborative Addiction Medicine Research Fellowship, Dr. Fairbairn conducts her own research examining strategies to improve addiction treatment outcomes among people who use opioids. Her past research has been conducted in various international settings and focuses on individual and structural factors that shape risk among people who inject drugs, including people with HIV infection. Dr. Fairbairn has worked extensively with the Mitsampan Harm Reduction Centre as part of the BCCSU’s Mitsampan Community Research Project, a serial cross-sectional mixed-methods study to investigate drug-using behaviour, healthcare access, the impact of law enforcement and policing, and other drug-related harms among people who inject drugs in Bangkok, Thailand.

Dr. Fairbairn led the recent development of the first national guidelines for injectable opioid agonist treatments (iOAT), which was written in collaboration with clinicians, researchers, and people with lived experience in substance use from across the country in order to improve the treatment and care of people with severe opioid use disorder.

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