Abundance of data, army of eager support staff, in-house statisticians and hi-tech infrastructure – what else could an addiction researcher dream of? The Urban Health Program at the British Columbia Centre of Excellence in HIV/AIDS offers endless opportunities for investigators. My first week in this paradise was full of awe, new learning and new people.
Starting on Tuesday, October 21st, Carmen Rock, the Project Coordinator, gave me an orientation to the Urban Health Research Initiative (UHRI), tour of office, and let me sign the confidentiality agreement. UHRI is located on the top, 6th, floor of the St Paul’s hospital, which was recently renovated to meet the needs of researchers. As we walked down the hallway, Carmen stopped for a moment and we could “hear” the data buzzing in the ether.
Chanson Brumme, Data Analyst, gave me a tour of the laboratory. More precisely, tour of laboratories. Although lab research isn’t my specialty, I soon realised the importance and extent of the blood analyses that went on around us. Robots and laboratory assistants were lifting, extracting, ejecting and processing samples taken from the research participants.
|photo credit: uhri.cfenet.ubc.ca
Mint Ti, Research Associate, sat down and went through a UHRI 101 tutorial with me. This introductory set of slides is available to all staff and faculty through the local intranet. Having seen the slides in advance, I was able to ask her more focused questions, such as the process of research product development and data requests to statisticians.
My last meetings of the day were with Drs. Evan Wood, Director, and Michaela Montaner, Special Projects Coordinator. Michaela’s work focuses on knowledge translation, including the Addiction Medicine education, which will be the focus of my fellowship. With Dr Wood, we were able to sketch out and quickly dip into the endless opportunities which the centre offers for investigators.
Continuing on Wednesday, October 22nd, Cody Callon, Research Coordinator, told us about the At-Risk Youth Study (ARYS), and its office systems; Amy, a Master’s student, joined us. Together, we travelled to the VIDUS (Vancouver Injection Drug Users Study) office. Elaine Fernandes, Clinical Trials Research Coordinator and Steve Kain, Nurse Coordinator, briefed us on the history of the study and new studiesthat take place in the building.
Ethnographic Tour with Ryan McNeil, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, finished my orientation on Tuesday, October 28th. Downtown Eastside (DTES) is a well-known deprived area. We walked by and talked about the key agencies and objects of the area: the Vancouver Drug Users Union (VANDU), Insite supervised injecting room and many single-room occupancy hotels SRO’s. Ryan’s radiated excitement as he described the socio-cultural phenomena happening in the area which give an ethnographer a chance to study them in vivo. Gentrification of the area is a problem for many neighbourhood citizens. The policy of the Canadian conservative government poses serious challenges for the injecting room. The authorities try to push the scene out of downtown, for example by relocating the bottle depo site. The scientists are eager to “see what happens” next.
The department of health
is reviewing distribution of Naloxone, a drug that reverses overdose, to buddies and families of heroin users. A similar scheme is in use in Britain
. The department is in discussions with the Health service executive
(HSE) to make the emergency drug more widely available. Currently, it is a prescription-only medication and can only be used by the person for whom it is prescribed, or by ambulance crews and medical staff.
On July 6th
, 2012, The Ana Liffey Drug Project
, a national addiction service, set up a Naloxone Advisory Group
. Tony Duffin, the group’s director, said that while the government’s discussions on Naloxone are welcome, it would be more beneficial to fast-track legislative changes. “I don’t know why we haven’t prioritized this in Ireland,” he said. “It’s an innocuous drug. Its only purpose is to stop opioids working. If you haven’t taken opioids, it won’t have any effect. It’s a WHO recommended medicine, so the evidence is clear. It is important that we see it widely available so we can save people’s lives.”
A [our] study* published last week, which was compiled by the medical school at UCD and the Dublin Fire Brigade
recorded 496 overdoses over a 12-month period, 13 of which were fatal. The majority of these were young men on the street, including in affluent areas of south Dublin. Most overdoses occurred in daytime, with a high incidence within 1000 meters radius of addiction services. Gerard Bury
, a professor in general practice at UCD
and one of the authors of the research, said: “Literature from other countries shows that bystanders, peers, or family members of overdose victims are most often the initial emergency responders and are best positioned to intervene immediately when the first overdose symptoms appear. These lay persons save lives if they are provided with Naloxone.”
Bury said Naloxone in a form of intranasal spray, available in America and Scotland, may be a more effective intervention than the injectable type planned by the department. “The Department of Health statement doesn’t indicate any intention to address the issue of the intranasal route, which, they told us, contravened the current regulations,” he said. “There isn’t any of the sense of urgency which you might expect in dealing with a situation in which people are literally dying in the streets.”
To read the magazine article, go to: http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/
Dublin ambulances see an opioid overdose every day; many times near the methadone clinics. Do people shoot heroin around methadone clinics? Yes. The common sense confirms anecdotal evidence from everyday experience of clinic staff and methadone users. Although this is no rocket science for most of us, it’s much harder to prove it. Regardless of the location, the high number of overdoses in Dublin calls for an immediate distribution of the heroin antidote – Naloxone. Visit my previous post for more info on our pilot Naloxone project.
Healthcare professionals can generate important clinical questions for addiction research. Answering such questions by conducting a Cochrane review of evidence is a satisfying learning process and can contribute to drugs policy. This article summarises the experiences of an addiction medicine researcher conducting a Cochrane review, developing and evaluating a researcher-facilitated programme for medical student research activity in general practice.
|photo credit: theconversation.net
One summer afternoon in 2010, an interview with a family physician in Dublin opened my eyes about talking therapies for drink problems among people who also used other drugs. “Does counselling work for these people?” the doctor asked. “Yes”, I was absolutely convinced about it, but I had no evidence for my faith. Surprised by his interest, I sent him the only two studies on the topic that I knew of; never heard back from him.
I searched for more studies without success. Many studies on general population showed up in my internet search, but none for people who also used other drugs.
This made me doubt my beliefs. At that time, a national funding agency announced a call for Cochrane training fellowships. Cochrane collaboration hosts the largest database of systematic reviews to inform healthcare decisions. Cochrane reviews are the jaguars of medical evidence synthesis. The fellowship was a godsend. I could use the funding to learn from Cochrane gurus and answer the Dublin doctor’s question by making the most of all available literature. My supervisor introduced me to a Cochrane author, Dr Liam Glynn, who reviewed self-management strategies for high blood pressure. He agreed to mentor my fellowship. We booked the title for our review with the Cochrane Drug andAlcohol Review Group in Italy and started to work on it when we got the funding.
The review found very few studies, most of which didn’t have a control group or randomised patients without drink problems; we could not give any recommendations to doctors.
The next step in the quest for the answer, we approached patients with dual drug and alcohol problems and fed their ideas back to the experts. Expert consensus recommendations are standard in the absence of scientific studies. The group had to rely on semi-structured interviews with doctors and patients and “B class” evidence from my review. The result of their consensus was a manual for family doctors.
Having developed the manual, we tested its value to answer our original question: “Does it work?” The new pilot trial encourages doctors to ask people who use illicit drugs about alcohol and to help those with mild problems; severe problems are best treated by a specialist. Sixteen general practices (GPs) in two deprived regions will be randomised to receive the manual-based training or to keep doing what they do. The latter group will be trained later.
When I finished my Cochrane training and review, it was time for me to give back and teach medical students because the fellowships worked on the pay-it-forward model. Equipping the new generation of doctors with critical literature review and appraisal skills was my contribution to the improvement of addiction healthcare delivery. The aim of our teaching project was to create and evaluate a training-through-research programme for medical students, facilitated by a seasoned researcher.
We offered online webinars, methodological advice, mentoring, and one-one interaction. Our medical school emailed all students and we randomly selected a handful needed for our research projects. Collaborators from biostatistics, psychiatry and public health aided the programme. The students presented their work at four conferences and wrote three academic papers for medical journals.
Teaching literature reviews to medical students was a rewarding learning experience. I learned that the quality and commitment of students varies; different expectations led to different work processes and outputs. Some students submitted their work in more finished stage than others; competing priorities precluded achievement of higher standards. The manuscript preparation, submission and publication processes were too long for short student projects, although some students persevered and remained involved until the end.
From a personal perspective, I still don’t know whether counselling works for drink problems in people who also use other drugs, but I’ve learned how to query the literature when doctors need evidence.
This post is based on our presentation at the INMED conference in Belfast, and o recent article in the Substance Abuse journal. References:
- Klimas, J., & Cullen, W. (2014). Addressing a Training Gap through Addiction Research Education for Medical Students: Letter to editor. Substance Abuse. doi: 10.1080/08897077.2014.939802
- Klimas, J., & Cullen, W. (2014). Teaching literature reviews: researcher-facilitated programme to support medical student research activity in general practice. Poster presented at the Annual scientific meeting of the Irish Network of Medical Educators, February 21, Belfast, NI.
“You cannot hope to build a better world without improving the individuals” – Marie Skłodowska-Curie
September 17th – the Irish Research Council is pleased to announce the launch of the International Career Development Awards – the ELEVATE Fellowships. Over 20 awardees confirmed their attendance. The speakers have been invited to give Awardees useful perspectives and food for thought before heading off on the international phase of this Fellowship. The launch has been a nice opportunity to meet fellow Awardees on this cohort.
The event took place in the Irish Research Council’s building, Brooklawn House, Crampton Avenue (off Shelborune Road), Dublin 4, Ireland, from 10am to 4.30pm.
Programme of the day:
10.00am-10.30am: Welcome by the Irish Research Council
Introduction to Council Enterprise Team
Introduction to ELEVATE 2014 cohort
10.30am-12.30pm: Dr. Janet Metcalf, Chair & Head of Vitae, ‘Careers for Researchers’
12.30pm-1.45pm: Lunch and Networking
Dr Metcalf’s talk focused on broadening the Fellows’ career aspirations: “I’ve never had any career plan, any career goal. Only two principles: catch every ball that’s thrown at me and make sure my decisions are widening my options, not narrowing them.”
|Dr Janet Metclaf, photosource: vitae
| ELEVATEFellowship is a funding scheme of Irish Research Council which aims to fund Irish-based experienced researchers who have gained most of their research experience in Ireland so that they can acquire new skills and expertise while conducting high-level research abroad for two years and then return to Ireland for one final year with their newly acquired knowledge and expertise. The Irish Research Council International Career Development Fellowships are Co-funded by European Union through the Marie Sklodowska Curie Actions. In 2013, 15 researchers received the Fellowships for different projects from time travel through nanotechnologies to diamonds. The council funded similar schemes in the past, for example, the EMPOWER 2011-12 or INSPIRE 2009-11. This year, 25 fellowships were awarded to 5 academic and 20 industry-based projects. Text taken from www.research.ie
|Barbara Monynihan, source: onyourfeet
| Irish Research Council (@IrishResearch) funds excellent researchers across all disciplines and encourages interdisciplinary research and engagement with enterprise. The Council facilitates the career development of researchers by funding those at an early stage of their research career to associate with established research teams who have achieved international recognition for their work. The Council aims to support an expertise-driven research system in order to enhance Ireland’s innovation capacity and skills base in a rapidly changing global environment where knowledge is key to economic, social and cultural development. The Council is further committed to facilitating the integration of Irish researchers in all disciplines within the European Research Area.
Text taken from www.research.ie
Maria “Manya” Salomea Sklodowska
© ACJC – Archives Curie et Joliot-Curie
Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions (MSCA) are European research grants for scientists in Europe and abroad. The objective of the MSCA is to support the career development and training of researchers – with a focus on innovation skills – in all scientific disciplines through worldwide and cross-sector mobility. For this, the MSCA provide grants at all stages of researchers’ careers, from PhD candidates to highly experienced researchers, and encourage transnational, intersectoral and interdisciplinary mobility. The MSCA will become the main EU programme for doctoral training, funding 25 000 PhDs.
Endowing researchers with new skills and a wider range of competences, while offering them attractive working conditions, is a crucial aspect of the MSCA. In addition to mobility between countries, the MSCA also seek to break the real and perceived barriers between academic and other sectors, especially business. The MSCA follow a “bottom-up” approach, i.e. individuals and organisations working in any area of research can apply for funding. Several MSCA initiatives promote the involvement of industry etc. in doctoral and post-doctoral research. Text taken from www.ec.europa.eu
I will be awarded the ELEVATE to do research on better addiction medicine education for doctors in Ireland and in Canada (www.addictionmedicinefellowship.org). Watch this space for more information.