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 B.C., but other 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.

READ MORE: Fatal overdoses down by 33% in B.C., but carfentanil deaths on the rise

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

Louise Avery is the longest serving Curator and Director at the Kitimat Museum. Here, she’s standing in front of the new Haisla Heritage Section, which they worked hard on with Haisla members and organizations to ensure it was an accurate and respectful display of artifacts.
In Our Valley: Louise Avery

Louise Avery has been the Director and Curator at the Kitimat Museum for over 24 years

Nechako Toastmasters member Eleanor Kendall performing a speech as Mrs. Claus at a meeting when they were still meeting in person, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Wanda Shaw photo)
Turning fears into confidence: Kitimat Toastmasters go online amidst COVID-19

Nechako Toastmasters have moved virtual amidst COVID-19 restrictions

<em>Black Press file photo </em>
Clare’s Corner: Yes, love is strange — and an addiction

A little bit of love to help get you through those Monday blues

Mount Elizabeth Middle Secondary School in Kitimat scored a 1.7 out of 10 on the Fraser Institute’s annual school report cards. This is the lowest the school has ever scored, where they usually average around a 5. (Black Press Media photo)
‘Developing a sense of belonging’: Kitimat high school unconcerned by Fraser Institute’s report card ranking

The Institute’s annual school report cards gave Mount Elizabeth Middle/Secondary a 1.7 out of 10

“We have to make a call out to address this now so our people don’t have to feel fearful,” said Tribal Chief Mina Holmes. (Carrier Sekani Tribal Council Facebook photo)
Carrier Sekani Tribal Council seeks Indigenous-led task force in northern B.C. hospitals

Request made in an open letter to federal minister Carolyn Bennett

FILE – Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provides the latest update on the COVID-19 pandemic in the province during a press conference in the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, October 22, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. shatters COVID-19 records with 817 weekend cases; masks now expected indoors

Three people have died over the past three reporting periods

The voting station mimicked a real voting station in Nicole Choi’s classroom at Chilliwack middle school on Oct. 22, 2020, where students had to show their ID (student cards), be checked off a list, and mark a secret ballot behind a screen. (Jessica Peters/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. students choose NDP majority in mock election

More than 90,000 youth took part in school-based election process

Crew transport bus at the Trans Mountain pipeline project work site in Burnaby, March 2020. (Trans Mountain)
Check your workplace COVID-19 safety plans, Dr. Henry urges

Masks in public spaces, distance in lunchrooms for winter

B.C.’s Court of Appeal is in Vancouver. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Judgment reserved in Surrey Six slayings appeals

Six men were killed in suite 1505 of the Balmoral Tower in Whalley on Oct. 19, 2007

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Kelowna City Hall has been vandalized overnight. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)
Kelowna City Hall hit by anti-pandemic vandalism

Graffiti condemning the virus appears overnight on City Hall

FILE – A woman smokes a marijuana joint at a “Wake and Bake” legalized marijuana event in Toronto on October 17, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov
Home nurse visits could play big role in reducing cannabis use, smoking in young mothers

The program, dubbed the BC Healthy Connections Project, involves public health nursing home visits

The ‘new normal’ for hockey parents in Chilliwack and elsewhere in B.C., watching their kids from outside of the arena due to COVID-19 protocols. (Submitted photo)
Chilliwack hockey parents petition to be let back in the arena

Refused access due to pandemic protocols, parents are now applying pressure to loosen the rules

Most Read