Fight the deadly opioid epidemic at its roots

Our narcotic abuse and death rates are likely at their highest in modern history

Alan Cassels

VICTORIA, B.C. / Troy Media/ – We are in the midst of a deadly drug epidemic so severe and widespread that few people in North America will remain untouched by it. A dramatic change in how physicians are trained is required to get the epidemic under control.

Our narcotic abuse and death rates are likely at their highest in modern history.

Critics have begun pointing the finger at the medical system and its prescribers – well-meaning doctors and specialists who’ve been giving too many patients excessively powerful opioid medications to deal with modest pain. But we should dig deeper and look at the relationship between the medical education system and pharmaceutical companies.

Recently, Dr. Perry Kendall, British Columbia’s provincial health officer, said that his province has a bona fide “public health emergency” on its hands, mostly due to the alarming number of overdose deaths linked to prescription opioids.

Opioids include prescription narcotics like oxycontin, hydromorph contin and fentanyl (which some say is 100 times stronger than morphine). Kendall said that there have been more than 200 opioid-related overdoses so far this year in B.C., and if those numbers continue, there’ll be 800 by the end of the year.

What’s happening in B.C. is just a microcosm of what is happening across Canada, where we have some of the highest rates of prescription opioid consumption in the world. From 2006 to 2011, use of opioids in Canada rose by 32 per cent and that rise has continued unabated, despite efforts to slow it down.

The problems, as well as potential solutions, are incredibly complicated but curbing society’s exposure to opioids – particularly those that come from a prescription pad in a doctor’s office – is absolutely vital.

The liberal prescribing of opioids is a recent problem and, since the mid-1990s, can be linked to the message-crafting activities of the pharmaceutical industry. That industry helped shape both patient perceptions of pain and how doctors thought about the safety of these drugs. Doctors were increasingly encouraged – sometimes through industry-funded educational activities or by using textbooks on pain management paid for by the makers of opioids – to prescribe the drugs for a much wider population of patients experiencing pain.

If revising the messaging around opioids was a business-oriented strategy by the opioid makers, we cannot place the blame solely upon them. Some of that blame has to do with the co-dependent relationship between physician education and the drug industry, which funds a substantial portion of physician education in Canada.

Tackling the addiction problem requires serious, multifaceted source control. We need greater access to addiction treatment facilities and methods to rescue people from the depths of addiction, certainly. But we also need to curb society’s underlying dependence on drug company money for doctor training.

– Alan Cassels is an expert advisor with and the author of the just-published The Cochrane Collaboration: Medicine’s Best-Kept Secret.



Just Posted

Back in Time

Historical Perspective

March 26 road conditions

Stretches of fog on Highway 5

Tickets still available for Clearwater Of the Year Awards

Event celebrates local citizens, employees, businesses and services for contributions to community

Road conditions for March 25

Fog is causing poor visibility on Highway 5

Rockin’ Robin

Another sign spring has sprung

VIDEO: RCMP reveal five kids hit in deadly B.C. crash

The children range in age from six to 17.

Stranger climbs onto B.C. family’s second-floor balcony, lights fire in barbecue

Incident in Abbotsford terrifies family with two-year-old boy

British Columbians are paying more for booze but also broccoli

Victoria’s inflation was 2.3 per cent, a tick above Vancouver’s of 2.2 per cent

UPDATED: Three dead in Surrey crash: police

Single-vehicle crash occurred around 10:30 a.m., police remain on-scene

Eviction halted for B.C. woman deemed ‘too young’ for seniors’ home

Zoe Nagler, 46, had been given notice after living in the seniors complex in Comox for six years

Is it a homicide? B.C. woman dies in hospital, seven months after being shot

Stepfather think Chilliwack case should now be a homicide, but IHIT has not confirmed anything

Coroner’s inquest announced for Victoria teen’s overdose death

Elliot Eurchuk was 16 years old when he died of an opioid overdose at his Oak Bay home

Military officer accused of sexual misconduct, drunkenness in B.C., Alberta

Warrant Officer Jarvis Kevin Malone is charged under the National Defence Act

Harbour Air to convert to all-electric seaplanes

Seaplane company to modify fleet with a 750-horsepower electric motor

Most Read