Health

Real action on the opioid crisis in Ontario

Since becoming widely used to manage chronic pain more than two decades ago, opioid drugs have become amongst the most widely-prescribed class of medications in Canada. Canadians are the second highest per capita consumers of prescription opioid medications in the world, with an average of 53 prescriptions written for every 100 people each year. Unfortunately, the widespread availability of prescription opioid medications and their highly addictive nature have resulted in a dramatic rise in the rate of opioid dependency and has fuelled a growing crisis that has affected every province in Canada. Overdoses involving fentanyl—a synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100× more potent than morphine—have resulted in at least 655 deaths in Canada between 2009-2014. In Ontario, there was a staggering 867 opioid-related deaths in 2016 alone. While there is much discussion and debate amongst regulatory bodies, healthcare experts and the public on how to curb the opioid crisis, relative little has been said about the damning role of the profit-driven pharmaceutical industry that had sparked the crisis. In 1995, Purdue Pharma—an American pharmaceutical company—produced and began to market OxyContin, a semisynthetic opioid produced from the Persian poppy plant, to physicians as a safe and effective means of controlling chronic, non-cancer pain. Purdue, by its own admission, deliberately misled physicians about the risks of prescribing this drug—claiming that it had little addictive potential. As a result, OxyContin became the first opioid drug to be widely used to manage pain and opened the way for the massive over-prescription of these medications and the resultant surge in opioid addiction. (more…)

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