Levels of opioid prescriptions for pain in Southwestern Ontario communities are among the province’s highest, new research finds

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New research shows Southwestern Ontario is near the top of a troubling list.

The region, spanning public-health offices from Windsor to Sarnia-Lambton, London-Middlesex and Elgin County, is cornering the market on opioid prescriptions for pain – with more than 180,000 of the narcotic prescriptions spanning the five health units.

A report by the Ontario Drug Policy Research Network found the number of people prescribed an opioid remained relatively constant over the past five years: 1.95 million people, or one in seven Ontarians, treated with the potentially addictive medications in 2016.

North Bay Parry Sound and Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge health units had the highest rate in the province, with about 17 per cent of residents holding opioid prescriptions for pain.

But Southwestern Ontario is not far off.

In the Windsor-Essex health unit, 16.9 per cent of residents have been prescribed opioids for pain. The public health agencies in Sarnia-Lambton, Chatham-Kent and Elgin-St. Thomas come in at 16.5, 16.3 and 16.2 per cent respectively.

The Middlesex-London Health Unit is the lowest in the five-agency region, with only 12.9 per cent of residents holding a narcotic prescription for pain.

The report, released Tuesday, found higher rates of the potentially addictive drugs prescribed for pain in rural and northern regions.

In 2016, the report found almost 12 per cent of Ontarians were prescribed an opioid for all types of pain; 2.3 per cent for mostly seasonal cough suppression; and 0.4 per cent for opioid addiction.

However, the volume of opioids dispensed fell by 18 per cent between January 2015 and March 2017, driven by a reduction in the amount of long-acting, slow-release formulations — such as fentanyl patches and some types of oxycodone — prescribed to patients.

“There might be a good news story here, in that while there’s similar numbers of people being treated with opioids for pain, it seems as if they’re getting less opioid and they’re getting those opioids in more prescriptions,” said lead author Tara Gomes, a scientist at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences.

“That aligns really well with some of the recommendations that have been coming out of guidelines that suggest physicians try and lower doses but also have people get dispensed smaller amounts of opioids at a time.”

– with files from the Canadian Press


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