The new government must act to prevent Canada’s addiction crisis | Stuart

We have a new bill, the Controlling and Financing of Prescription Medicines Act, requiring opioid prescriptions to be covered by pharmaceutical companies. This new proposed law is aimed at creating greater access to prescription…

The new government must act to prevent Canada's addiction crisis | Stuart

We have a new bill, the Controlling and Financing of Prescription Medicines Act, requiring opioid prescriptions to be covered by pharmaceutical companies. This new proposed law is aimed at creating greater access to prescription opioid treatment, especially for patients who could have a difficult time securing the medication. Unfortunately, it is the wrong approach to help.

For decades, the United States led the world in both opioid prescriptions and opioid use. In Canada, opioid abuse has recently become a growing problem. While there are many factors that have contributed to this increase, including our own legal regimes and addiction, the most important factor has been the introduction of fentanyl into our opioid supply, especially through the illicit online marketplaces, such as AlphaBay and, perhaps, DarkFarms.

Few jurisdictions have tackled the issue as comprehensively as the federal government. Canada has initiated seven task forces (one in each province and territory) and invested over $125m in prevention and treatment strategies and related media awareness activities. The current 2018-2019 federal budget and the recent Throne Speech included new measures to deal with opioid abuse.

But it’s clear that opioids, as well as other problematic substances and habits, will continue to be imported to our country and to abuse. Public health recommendations that target certain particular practices and facilities should be followed and expanded in line with public needs. Under such a model, we would expect health care professionals to advise prescribing decisions and, over time, to provide transparent, user-friendly information on the risks of these new products.

The increased availability of prescription opioids in the United States along with the availability of opioids for purchase on the illegal online marketplaces contribute to people’s increased addiction. It will be crucial for Canada to proactively protect its citizens and their health and well-being.

Unfortunately, we have already seen just how far some Canadian health care providers will go to achieve increased revenues, rather than to fulfil their role of providing equal access to all Canadians. In Ontario, where I worked as an addictions physician, there were pharmacists dispensing drugs that required even more specific prescriptions, such as for methadone and buprenorphine. There was also a concern that some pharmacists may have become supply and distribution middlemen, selling over-the-counter and over-the-counter pills into medicine cabinets across the province without any knowledge of the presence of prescription opioids in the patient’s system.

I can easily see those concerns being replicated in Ottawa. Today, about 1.5 million Canadians have a prescription opioid prescription. The illicit online marketplaces are full of various opioids, including fentanyl. On Friday, Canada’s top law enforcement officer, the head of Canada’s RCMP, Supt Gary Berntsen, said the police should be given the power to seize the electronic devices of suspected opioid suppliers, in addition to the possession of prescription drugs. Given our own public health crisis, this would undoubtedly produce widespread disruption to illegal drug markets and to the lives of their users.

While this can be a good and effective law enforcement tactic, we also know that this model will lead to significantly more oversight for all opioid prescriptions. Along with further privacy legislation, it will put a great strain on every medical professional, including physicians, pharmacists and nurse practitioners, as well as health-care professionals, including those employed by the government and the public.

Health Canada is currently considering a new prescription opioid licensing system. We look forward to seeing how this new model will protect Canadian health care professionals and alleviate public concern about illicit opioid misuse. With its approach to regulation, Health Canada is joining the other major Western countries that have adopted the UN Convention on Illicit Drug Traffic, including the United States and the European Union. Canada could be the next of the five jurisdictions in the world to join the coalition of strong countries that are working to reduce the proliferation of illicit opioids and to eliminate the lucrative underground market for these illegal drugs.

Sign up for the Minute email briefing. Today’s brief is brought to you by the non-profit clean sites of Canada, ensuring that more than 500,000 Canadian clean sites are in operation, with coverage for every province and territory in Canada. Since inception in November 2013, Canadian clean sites have taken five million clean entries. The Clean Sites network is a testament to the important role that Canada plays in achieving the UN-endorsed goal of ensuring all Canadians can obtain clean drugs with no fear of them being diverted to the illicit market. Clean Sites are multidisciplinary teams of local health workers who offer education, wellness programs and crisis management to citizens who have been affected by an overdose. The Clean Sites network operates across Canada, focusing on developing communities

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