Nearly 20 million prescriptions for opioids were written by the medical community in 2016.
Overprescribing is behind the epidemic, which has worsened in recent years with the arrival of illicit fentanyl, leading to a sharp spike in overdose deaths. Canada ranks as the world’s second-biggest consumer of pharmaceutical opioids.
A Globe and Mail investigation found that Ottawa and the provinces have failed to take adequate steps to stop the indiscriminate prescribing of opioids. As doctors continue to liberally prescribe opioids, a class of painkillers that includes oxycodone, hydromorphone and fentanyl, both the pharmaceutical-grade and illicit markets are thriving. Meldon Kahan, medical director of the substance-use service program at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, said the numbers show that efforts to educate doctors about the risks associated with opioids have had little impact on prescribing.
Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, launched sales campaigns two decades ago promoting the benefits of the drug and it quickly became the country’s top-selling long-acting opioid. But it also became a lightning rod in the early 2000s, as reports of addiction and overdoses exploded. In 2012, Purdue pulled OxyContin from the market and alternative painkillers filled the void. Purdue also makes Hydromorph Contin.
“We need to reset the thinking on opioids,” said Gordon Wallace, managing director of safe medical care at the Canadian Medical Protective Association, which provides advice to doctors when medical-legal difficulties arise. “In my time, the benefits of opioids for non-cancer pain were significantly over sold and the risks were under stated.”
So there we have it folks. Pharma companies ramp up the advertising (and likely the perks for prescribing) and we have a crisis.
How to solve it? A strict cold turkey program: stop prescribing and go so far as to ban the opioids from the list of options available for medical care and treatment of pain, at least until the current crisis is under control. If you can’t do that, let’s at least start educating the medical profession about the cause and effect that’s been created.
To track details about how Canada became addicted to opioids, read more here.