While Ontario physicians are generally prescribing fewer opioids and lower doses, opioid use in Peterborough and the Kawarthas appears to be well over the provincial average.
A study published August 21, 2017, by the Ontario Drug Policy Research Network suggests that almost one in four people living in the area were given opioids for pain management in 2016. The number translates to 17 per cent, well above the provincial average of 11.9 per cent.
Peterborough Medical Officer of Health Dr. Rosana Salvaterra says the results of the study did not surprise her.
“With our aging population, it should come as no surprise that physicians are prescribing opioids to help people deal with chronic pain,” said Dr. Salvaterra. “And unfortunately we do not have a pain clinic here in Peterborough as I have certainly heard our local physicians ask for more resources from the province so that they can treat pain better and more appropriately without using narcotics.”
The study shows that, provincially, one in eight people were treated with an opioid for pain in 2016 – a drop from previous years, says lead investigator Tara Gomes.
“There is an improvement here,” said Gomes, who is also a scientist at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. “While the same number of people are being exposed to opioids, less drug is actually being dispensed into the community at a time and we know from past work that there are more prescriptions for opioids being dispensed. It might seem a little counter intuitive but it actually suggests that perhaps people are getting less drugs in more prescriptions.”
This “less drug for a shorter duration” approach aligns itself with the clinical guidelines that aim to improve access to proper prescriptions methods and to help prevent addiction.
The report indicates that Peterborough also ranks highest in the use of methadone in the province – the drug used to treat addiction to opioids. Dr. Salvaterra says there are misconceptions around methadone and its role and use as it’s a proven treatment for opioid addiction.
“We need people on methadone, rather than using illicit opioids on the street,” said Dr. Salvaterra. “I think the really good news recently is that we have had the introduction and better access to suboxone which is another treatment for opioid addiction and the difference between suboxone and methadone is you don’t need a special license to dispense it.”
The most recent numbers from 2015 indicate there were 13 overdose deaths from opioids in Peterborough that year, and, while health officials are waiting for an update, they suggest that figure will rise.
“All of the trends are up for Peterborough and I think what is important to know is that much of this is preventable,” said Dr. Salvaterra. “There is something we can do to prevent this, which makes it all that much more compelling.”
The Peterborough Drug Strategy team consists of leaders in the community from individuals in the health field to members of the Peterborough Police Service and beyond. They have been working on a drug strategy to put naloxone kits in the hands of more people in the community to help prevent overdoses and death.
Donna Rogers, executive director with Four-Cast, a local addiction services agency, says there naloxone can help prevent opioid deaths.
“There are a number of places where you can get (naloxone) kits, and what I would hope is that we can de-stigmatize the solution to saving lives,” she said. “Destigmatization save lives and people need not be embarrassed or uncomfortable about seeking out a naloxone kit for their home.”
Overdose Prevention Day will take place in Peterborough on August 31, the event will include information and instructions on how to administer naloxone to individuals who may have overdose, while bringing local health teams and other leaders together to look at measures to help with addiction and ways to prevent it.