An organizer displays a naloxone kit that people can pick up for free as International Overdose Awareness Day training seminar takes place at Centennial Square in Victoria, B.C., on Saturday August 31, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

An organizer displays a naloxone kit that people can pick up for free as International Overdose Awareness Day training seminar takes place at Centennial Square in Victoria, B.C., on Saturday August 31, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

Fewer people prescribed opioids in Canada. but some provinces lack data: doctors

Patients who began taking opioids were prescribed smaller doses for shorter duration

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.

Buckley, who often treats pain patients referred to him by other doctors, said it’s important for patients to know they need to be tapered off opioids slowly. 

“It’s about correct prescribing or optimal prescribing rather than trying to drive the dose down. What you need to be looking at are things like measures of function, and those typically don’t come through on large-scale administrative health data,” he said.

“You can’t tell, if people’s doses came down, did they stop going to work, for example, or did they start relying on more assistance for home care?”

Buckley said one of his patients, a man in his late 50s, had been prescribed opioids for 10 years due to a variety of workplace injuries but decided to taper off due to his concerns about long-term use.

His dosage was gradually reduced over a year and a half, Buckley said, adding his pain wasn’t any better but his “mental energy” improved somewhat.

“He also finds he’s edgier than he was so his wife has been in once or twice to say, ‘Look, he gets grumpy a lot more than he used to but he’s probably a bit more mentally active.’ “

The patient also received physical therapy, one of the ways the national guidelines advise doctors to treat pain beyond opioids, but many provinces don’t cover such costs, Buckley said.

“A lot of people don’t have that. This is one of the push-pull parts (of the issue). Optimal pain management includes more than medications. It includes education, sometimes cognitive behavioural therapy and exercise. But a significant portion of the country can’t access those through their provincial health-care systems.”

Buckley suggested all provinces provide complete opioid prescribing data to the Canadian Institute for Health Information so a fuller picture of what’s happening across the country is available.

READ MORE: Alberta to join B.C.’s class-action lawsuit against opioid manufacturers, distributors

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Pipestone Flyer file photo
Nominations now open for 2021 general municipal election

Nominations for Wetaskiwin’s general municipal election are now open until Sept. 20, 2021.

Facebook/ Jocelyne Pepin Young
 Facebook/ Jocelyne Pepin Young
 Facebook/ Jocelyne Pepin Young
 Facebook/ Jocelyne Pepin Young
Millet Couple share their COVID project, Little Free Library, with the community

They took inspiration from others doing similar book shares around Millet and Wetaskiwin.

Black Press file photo
Wetaskiwin RCMP investigate fatal pedestrian collision

A 37-year-old man from Maskwacis has died in hospital as a result of his injuries.

People skate on a lake in a city park in Montreal, Sunday, January 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
The end of hugs: How COVID-19 has changed daily life a year after Canada’s 1st case

Today marks the one year anniversary of COVID-19 landing in Canada

Terrance Josephson of the Princeton Posse, at left, and Tyson Conroy of the Summerland Steam clash during a Junior B hockey game at the Summerland Arena in the early spring of 2020. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Test your knowledge of Canada’s national winter sport

Red Fraggle, one of Jim Henson Company’s Fraggle Rock characers, is shown at Time To Play Holiday Show, Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2010, in New York. The Jim Henson Company says production has officially started in Calgary on a reboot of the original 1980s children’s puppet series, which was filmed in Toronto.THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Mark Lennihan
‘Fraggle Rock’ children’s puppet series reboot starts production in Calgary

A spokesperson says the new series will stream on Apple TV plus

A registered nurse prepares a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in Halifax on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. Yukon’s Minister of Community Services, John Streiker, says he’s outraged that a couple from outside the territory travelled to a remote community this week and received doses of COVID-19 vaccine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan-POOL
Couple charged after travelling to Yukon to get COVID-19 vaccine

The maximum fine under the emergency measures act is $500, and up to six months in jail

Metis Nation of B.C. President Clara Morin Dal Col poses in this undated handout photo. The Metis Nation of B.C. says Dal Col has been suspended from her role as president. The Metis Nation of B.C. says Dal Col has been suspended from her role as president. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Metis Nation of B.C. *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Metis Nation of B.C. suspends president, citing ‘breach’ of policies, procedures

Vice-president Lissa Smith is stepping in to fill the position on an acting basis

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks in the in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Payette shouldn’t get same benefits as other ex-governors general: O’Toole

Former governors general are entitled to a pension and also get a regular income paid to them for the rest of their lives

A woman injects herself with crack cocaine at a supervised consumption site Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Drug users at greater risk of dying as services scale back in second wave of COVID-19

It pins the blame largely on a lack of supports, a corrupted drug supply

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
Blackfalds RCMP investigate fatal collision

Preliminary investigation revealed a south bound pickup truck collided with an eastbound car

Jennifer Cochrane, a Public Health Nurse with Prairie Mountain Health in Virden, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Robert Farquhar with Westman Regional Laboratory, during the first day of immunizations at the Brandon COVID-19 vaccination supersite in Brandon, Man., on Monday, January 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tim Smith - POOL
Top doctor urges Canadians to keep up with COVID measures, even as vaccines roll out

More than 776,606 vaccines have been administered so far

Dr. Jerome Leis and Dr. Lynfa Stroud are pictured at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto on Thursday, January 21, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
‘It wasn’t called COVID at the time:’ One year since Canada’s first COVID-19 case

The 56-year-old man was admitted to Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

Most Read