Health expert calls for a national plan to address opioid crisis
Is Canada doing enough?
Amy Tucker, News Editor
In the absence of national data on opioid prescribing and overdoses, one health expert, Tara Gomes, an epidemiologist and scientist at St. Michael’s Hospital and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences, said the opioid crisis should be dealt with on a national level immediately.
“We have no way to capture the scope of this national crisis, and to identify policy changes most likely to affect real change. Instead, we will continue to rely on fragmented data reported by individual research groups in a small number of provinces,” she wrote in an article for EvidenceNetwork.ca.
The current approach in Canada has been to leave each provincial jurisdiction to undertake the crisis itself.
So far B.C.’s chief health officer has declared a public health emergency, Ontario has introduced numerous prescribing policies and a prescription monitoring program over the past several years as part of their narcotics strategy, while Alberta has introduced a policy to set a limit on payment for narcotics with the goal to ensure opioids are used appropriately and for the right reasons.
However, Gomes questions whether this is enough. Canada and the U.S. have the highest per capita volume of opioids dispensed in the world.
“While we expect prescription medications to help people, these drugs are killing people at an alarming rate,” Gomes wrote in her article.
In 2011, Alberta reported six deaths from fentanyl overdoses. By 2015 the number hit a staggering 274 deaths. In Calgary alone there were already 67 deaths this year, with Edmonton closely following at 43 deaths.
The rise in overdoses in Alberta mirrors the devastating trend across the country.
Since December, the province has tripled its supply of naloxone kits – a medication that reverses the effects of an overdose from opioids – from 3,000 to 9,000.
Gomes points to the disbursement of the drug in Canada as one of the core problems in the crisis.
“The current rate of opioid prescribing in this country is clearly unsustainable,” she wrote.
“Change is possible, but only with strong federal leadership, appropriate engagement and education of clinicians, and a commitment to provide patients with access to non-pharmaceutical pain management alternatives and addiction services.”