Just in time for spring cleaning, this Saturday is National Prescription Drop-off Day. The event, sponsored by the RCMP, calls on Canadians to take in their unused and expired medications to one of its drop-off locations set up across the country.
But former RCMP officer and current director of the advocacy group Get Prescription Drugs Off the Street, Rob Mulloy, says the annual event does nothing to help curb the growing problem of prescription drug abuse in Canada.
Into its fourth year and led by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and Public Safety Canada, the Prescription Drop-Off Day was created to highlight the fact that medications can potentially be misused if not cared for properly.
“Unused and unwanted medication can get into the wrong hands,” says RCMP spokesperson Jennifer Clarke. “Whether that is through people taking medication that isn’t theirs or people are trafficking the drugs, the bottom line is that the RCMP and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police endorse this event.”
Mr. Mulloy, whose non-profit advocacy group was started in 2014 by Amy Graves in response to the death of her brother Josh from an accidental overdose of hydromorphone, believes the event sends the wrong message in that the real problem stems from overprescription, not improperly secured medications.
“There’s a message that people turning over unused medications will reduce opioids that are available for trafficking on the street,” says Mr. Mulloy. “Our group believes the unnecessary and overprescribing of medications is a leading factor in abuse and trafficking, and we aren’t sure this day is helping change that.”
Expired medication is considered hazardous waste, according to the RCMP, and should not be thrown in the garbage or flushed down the toilet. To prevent misuse of expired medications, pharmacists recommend cleaning out your medicine cabinet once a year and taking old prescriptions to a nearby pharmacy -they will take your unused or unwanted medications, vitamins and over-the-counter health products (as well as empty prescription bottles) any day of the year.
According to the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, Canada is second only to the United States in per capita consumption of prescription opioids, with North America accounting for a remarkable 80 per cent of the world’s opioid consumption. A 2012 Canadian Alcohol and Drug Use Monitoring Survey revealed that 410,000 Canadians had reported abusing prescription drugs such as opioid pain relievers.
A new study into opioid addiction and prescription drug abuse finds that the majority of people misusing opioids have chronic pain that they are trying to manage through self-medication. The study out of Boston University School of Medicine and Boston Medical Center involved 589 individuals who screened positive for substance abuse and found that 87 per cent suffered from chronic pain, half of whom graded their pain as “severe.”
Researchers see these results as indicating that addictions counseling needs to radically change its focus, from current emphasis on informing patients about the negative effects of drug use towards providing alternative approaches to dealing with chronic pain.
“Pain should be treated as part of the long-term strategy for recovery,” says study author Dr. Daniel Alford, associate professor medicine at Boston University. “If drugs are being used to self-medicate pain, patients may be reluctant to decrease, stop, or remain abstinent if their pain symptoms are not adequately managed with other treatments including non-medication-based treatment.”