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Prescribing of opioids down 10% says national study

Fewer prescribed opioids

Fewer people in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Ontario were prescribed opioids last year compared with 2013 and the number of patients who began treatment on the pain medication decreased by nearly 10 per cent, the Canadian Institute for Health Information says.

The institute said in a report released Thursday that eight per cent fewer patients, or about 220,000 people, in those provinces are taking prescription opioids while approximately 175,000 fewer people were started on the drugs.

Patients who began taking opioids were prescribed smaller doses for shorter duration and when it came to long-term opioid therapy, fewer people were prescribed the medication for a period of 90 days or longer before sometimes being switched to other types of drugs to manage pain, the agency said.

It said initiatives including national prescribing guidelines introduced in 2017, along with prescription-monitoring programs to help reduce harms related to the overdose crisis, likely influenced prescribing trends.

"Despite overall decreasing trends in the prescribing of opioids, opioid-related harms and deaths have continued to rise across the country in recent years," the report says.

Michael Gaucher, director of pharmaceuticals for the agency, said only the three provinces provided complete data for opioid prescribing for the six years covered in the report but they represent a large portion of Canada's population.

Some chronic-pain patients have been concerned about being cut off opioids they need, and Gaucher said that is a valid issue to consider because opioids are an effective treatment.

"The concern with prescription opioids goes deeper than the person (taking them) and there can be others in the household that can access them," he said.

Dr. Norman Buckley, scientific director of the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Pain Research and Care at McMaster University, said "it's unfortunate" that data for Quebec and Alberta, for example, could not be included in the report.

He said doctors in Quebec generally prescribe fewer opioids than other provinces and are known for getting a substantial amount of education on pain management while physicians in Alberta and B.C., have access to real-time prescription-monitoring systems for patients.

"You could make the argument that having a concerted pain strategy actually also leads to less reliance on opioids," he said from Hamilton.



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