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With deaths soaring, Ontario’s opioid strategy makes changes

Ontario's opioid strategy

Ontario’s opioid strategy was recently unveiled. It’s Ontario’s new plan to tackle the rise in opiate addiction head on.

The opiate problem is a fast growing one in Canada’s most populous province. In 2014, more than 700 opioid related deaths were reported in Ontario alone, representing a 250 per cent increase in just 12 years.

Ontario’s new opioid strategy includes a large increase of funding for pain clinics, much easier access to drugs used to treat addictions/overdoses, and more rules for doctors who prescribe opioids and patients who receive them to follow.

“We’re starting to see doctors prescribe them somewhat less regularly, but they are still used very, very often. And, I think, too often,” Dr. David Juurlink, head of clinical pharmacology and toxicology at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre told CTV news.

As of January 2017, the Ontario government will be taking high dose painkillers such as 200mg tabs of morphine, 25mg-30mg’s of hydromorphone, and 75-100 microgram per hour patches of fentanyl off of the Ontario Drug Benefit Formulary.

Although the Ontario Drug Benefit Formulary only covers costs of drugs for a limited spectrum of older citizens, it still is a large step forward in keeping these high dose, and high risk drugs off of the streets.

It should be noted that the drugs will still be available, but the people they are being prescribed too will be responsible for the payment. As for people who actually need the higher doses of those drugs, the doctors can prescribe the patient to take a higher amount of a lower strength drug at one time to equal the larger needed dosage. This practice will also in theory encourage doctors to think about whether or not the patient truly needs the dosages they are being prescribes.

One of every 10 newly released inmates in Ontario dies of a drug overdose, making this group 12 times as likely to overdose than the average person.

“The highest risk period is shortly after their release, in the days and the weeks following their release,” said researcher Dr. Nav Persaud to CTV News.

The Ontario Harm Reduction Distribution Program also hands out kits equipped with the anti-opioid drug naloxone to people who are at a higher risk of overdosing, which will soon include those being released from jails.

“It’s good that the Ministry of Health is taking action on this important issue and I support the distribution of naloxone kits to people being released from incarceration,” adds Persaud.

Naloxone, which counteracts the effects of opioids is now being handed out free of charge at pharmacies in Ontario.

The province detailed the list of important changes in a recent press release. The measures include…

-Designating Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, as Ontario’s first-ever Provincial Overdose Coordinator to launch a new surveillance and reporting system to better respond to opioid overdoses in a timely manner and inform how best to direct care.-Developing evidence-based standards for health care providers on appropriate opioid prescribing that will be released by end of 2017-18 to help prevent the unnecessary dispensing and over-prescribing of pain killers.

-Delisting high-strength formulations of long-acting opioids from the Ontario Drug Benefit Formulary starting January 1, 2017 to help prevent addiction and support appropriate prescribing.

-Investing $17 million annually in Ontario’s Chronic Pain Network to create or enhance 17 chronic pain clinics across the province, ensuring that patients receive timely and appropriate care.

-Expanding access to naloxone overdose medication, available free of charge for patients and their families through pharmacies and eligible organizations to prevent overdose deaths.

-Increasing access to Suboxone addiction treatment and improving patient outcomes and integration of care for those using this treatment.

-Beginning October 1, 2016, stricter controls on the prescribing and dispensing of fentanyl patches took effect. Patients are now required to return used fentanyl patches to their pharmacy before more patches can be dispensed.

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