UBC Okanagan's substance use clinic has gone virtual, offering support to all community members

Substance use clinic for all

UBC Okanagan's substance use clinic has gone virtual this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

During these unprecedented times, people may be in extreme need of mental health support and counselling. The university's Problematic Substance Clinic has shifted its services online to ensure the community can still receive necessary support in a safe manner.

The clinic was founded in 2018 by clinical psychologist and psychology professor Zach Walsh. Its mandate is to help people reduce the negative effects associated with drug and alcohol use.

Because of social distancing guidelines, Walsh decided it was easiest to see patients through an online platform rather than in-person.

"Evidence suggests that problematic substance use is on the rise during the pandemic; we’re trying to fill a crucial gap in our community for folks in need of support," says Walsh, adding that switching to a virtual platform allows people living in rural Okanagan communities to access care. 

The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction says the COVID-19 pandemic may lead to increased substance-use disorders. Things like major life changes, social isolation and anxiety associated with economic despair can increase problematic drug and alcohol behaviours.

“I want people in the Okanagan to know that there’s support available to help reduce harms associated with using drugs like alcohol, opioids and others, even during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Walsh. “We’re here to help, whether people want to cut back, quit or just change how they use.”

The clinic provides help based on the latest evidence-based treatments that focus on harm reduction and low-barrier solutions. The clinic's approach caters to each person individually rather than a 'one size fits all' outlook. 

“The treatment team develops individualized intervention plans using approaches like cognitive-behavioural therapy and motivational interviewing to help clients attain their substance-use goals,” says Walsh. “We’re fortunate to have an excellent team of doctoral-level students under my supervision.”

“We meet people where they are at, in a non-judgemental, supportive environment — that’s the care you can expect from this clinic.”

The clinic is accessible to everyone and fees depend on a person's income. The clinic does not provide crisis or emergency services.

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