Mental Health and Addictions Program welcomes new physician lead in addictions medicine

In July 2021, Dr. Martell became the physician lead for Addictions Medicine (PLAM) at Nova Scotia Health.

Early in his career, Dr. Dave Martell developed an interest in addiction medicine soon after moving to Lunenburg, where he had been practicing as a family physician since 2004. 

At the beginning of 2019, he decided to pursue a career in addiction medicine, following fellowship training in Ontario. 

Before that, Dr. Martell was involved in leadership within the addiction medicine community through the Canadian Society of Addiction Medicine where he has been an active board member since 2015.

Seeing how practice has evolved in other parts of the country, he realized that Nova Scotia has unique advantages to developing an effective program of treatment for people with substance use disorders.

In July 2021, Dr. Martell became the physician lead for Addictions Medicine (PLAM) at Nova Scotia Health. 

“I see this position as a key way to achieving what other provinces have struggled to develop with this program,” said Dr. Martell “The field is still in its infancy and we have relatively little science to guide what we do compared to other fields.”

The PLAM role involves leadership for the addiction medicine community in Nova Scotia, and for the wider health care system. 

Dr. Martell focuses on communication with other health care providers involved in the work, offering guidance, and formulating policy changes to improve the way we help people who experience addiction. 

“When we talk about supports, we should take care to guide those supports to people and systems who need them,” said Dr. Martell. “People with substance use disorders need support, but so do their families, so do health care providers and the community agencies who are tasked to be the helpers.”

Upon seeing a rise in rates of substance use throughout the pandemic, Martell said shifting our focus less on the substances themselves and more on social problems will be crucial to effecting changes. 

“I see substance use partly as a surrogate marker for other health determinants” explained Dr. Martell “When people struggle more with poverty, homelessness and trauma, they use more substances.” 

Dr. Martell would like to see awareness broaden, as addiction affects many groups in society. He described the impact of a society recognizing people with substance use disorders first as people versus their substance use behavior. 

“I think we lose some of our connection to them as people and some of our own humanity in the process.” 

For Dr. Martell, the most powerful regulation to help with some of the common substance use problems, such as alcohol and tobacco is taxation. For substances we consider illegal, we must find other ways to reduce the harms the substances cause. 

“Society loses sight of the fact that the most harmful substances by far are the ones that are more socially acceptable to use, and we have the power as a society to effect change in the use of these substances through public policy and it has made a difference,” explained Martell. 

“It helps in the unsurprising way of nudging people away from these very common substances that cause most of the harm in society,” said Dr. Martell. He is careful to point out that not all substance use is a substance use disorder, and what we perceive as harm from substance use, we think mostly about the opioid crisis. 

“That should not be minimized as it is a very serious and ever worsening problem that needs to be addressed emergently,” described Martell “What gets lost is that smoking and consuming alcohol cause far more harm than all other substances, including opioids.”

When asked about how we might change the way we treat people with addictive disorders, Dr. Martell offered, “Think about how difficult it would be for you personally to reach out if you had a serious problem with addiction right now, that simple reflection is enough to illustrate the distance we must travel yet to have a society that does not stigmatize.”

With system supports in place designed to provide this type of care and with the help of grassroots organizations that sometimes go unrecognized, Martell explained that he would like to see a system where not only people can find help no matter what door they enter, but also where the system itself knows where help exists and can help others navigate it.

The Mental Health and Addiction Provincial Crisis Line is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to anyone experiencing a mental health or addictions crisis or someone concerned about them, by calling 1-888-429-8167 (toll free).

Our Intake Service for Community Mental Health and Addictions clinics, Withdrawal Management Services, Opioid Replacement and Treatment Program is available weekdays, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Please call 1-855-922-1122​ (toll free). This line has voicemail only evenings, weekends, and statutory holidays.

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