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A Four Pillars Legacy: The Philip Owen Professorship in Addiction Medicine

In honour of former Vancouver Mayor Philip Owen’s visionary approach to drug addiction, the St. Paul’s Foundation — with the support of Philip Owen’s friends and colleagues — has established the Philip Owen Professorship in Addiction Medicine at UBC.

The opioid crisis has existed, especially in the port city of Vancouver, since the 19th Century. In the late 1990s, the then Vancouver Mayor Philip Owen pioneered a new approach to addiction known as the Four Pillars. Instead of seeing it as purely a law enforcement issue, Mayor Owen believed it was a public health issue that could be tackled through a combination of prevention, enforcement, treatment, and harm reduction. His approach changed the way the city addressed the challenges of, and perceived, addiction.

In honour of Philip Owen’s leadership and vision, through the St. Paul’s Foundation, friends and colleagues have established the Philip Owen Professorship in Addiction Medicine at UBC. The funds raised will be matched by UBC to create an endowment and a lasting legacy for Philip Owen’s work, by continuing his compassionate, public health approach.

“I still have discussions with people who don’t see the addict through a view of compassion and empathy,” says Mayor Owen’s son, Chris. “I tell people that the COVID-19 crisis is really the second crisis that we’ve faced in Vancouver — with opioids, specifically fentanyl, being the first.”

Dr. Evan Wood, founding Executive Director of the BC Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU) at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver — which was started with a $1 million startup grant from the provincial government — has spearheaded the creation of the Philip Owen Professorship, along with Chris Owen and other supporters of the BCCSU. Dr. Wood is also a professor of medicine at UBC, where he helps lead the university’s efforts in addiction prevention and treatment through a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair. He describes their vision for the professorship candidate.

“The Owen Family was interested in someone who ranged from a compassionate addiction care provider to a physician researcher who could carry on Mayor Owen’s legacy, and have a focus on building the needed addiction system of care as well as having a strong addiction medicine educational background.”

Dr. Wood adds, “Ideally someone with experience in leading educational programs and a track record of teaching — because, you know, we need many more skilled addiction care providers in BC.” Chris Owen remembers over twenty years ago when his father had his own epiphany. It changed the way Mayor Owen looked at drug addiction — and ignited his interest in the Four Pillars approach.

“His legacy is something the whole family’s very proud of. He was a middle of the road fellow in all things he did in his life, and he went on his own personal journey regarding opioid addiction. It was a Christmas Day, and he went downtown and walked the Downtown Eastside — and as we know, addiction doesn’t observe high holidays. That’s when it seemed obvious to him that these people are ill, they’re suffering, and they need help.”

If you would like to support the Philip Owen Professorship, please do so using this donation form.