New UBC professorship to advance addiction medicine in B.C.

Dr. Nadia Fairbairn has been named 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.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, we can’t lose sight of the other public health emergency affecting families in every corner of British Columbia,” says Dr. Dermot Kelleher, dean of UBC’s faculty of medicine, and vice-president, health, at UBC. “The Philip Owen Professorship in Addiction Medicine at UBC will further our commitment to research and training in addiction medicine to help save lives.”

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 pioneered 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.

In her new role, Dr. Fairbairn, a professor in UBC faculty of medicine’s division of social medicine and clinician scientist at the BC Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU), 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.

“Dr. Fairbairn brings a wealth of experience to this position and she will continue helping thousands of people in B.C. who are living with addictions,” says Sheila Malcolmson, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. “Our government is proud to contribute funding for this position as we keep building a comprehensive system of evidence-based mental health and addictions care. Dr. Fairbairn’s innovative work is needed now more than ever. Together, we’re working to save lives and connect people to the supportive care they need to shape a healthier more hopeful future.”

Dr. Fairbairn, a practicing internal physician specialist in addiction medicine and physician lead of the Addiction Medicine Consult Team at St. Paul’s Hospital, serves as the director of the International Collaborate Addiction Medicine Research Fellowship Program at the BCCSU, the largest addiction fellowship program in North America.

She led the recent development of the first national guidelines for injectable opioid agonist treatments (iOAT), 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.

“I’m honoured to be the inaugural holder of the Philip Owen Professorship in Addiction Medicine, and grateful to the community of donors whose generosity has made this possible,” says Dr. Fairbairn. “Through this professorship, I hope to carry on the legacy of Mayor Owen— to advance the field of substance use and addiction medicine, close the evidence-to-practice gap, and ensure that patients can get the treatment and care they need and deserve.”

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.­

Read more about the Philip Owen Professorship in Addiction Medicine.