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Prescription painkillers: deadly when misused

Feb 02, 2016
In Ontario, you now stand a greater chance of dying from a prescription painkiller overdose than you do from a car crash. That’s the sobering reality we face from the epidemic level of painkiller misuse.

Dr. Lisa SimonIn Ontario, you now stand a greater chance of dying from a prescription painkiller overdose than you do from a car crash.

That’s the sobering reality we face from the epidemic level of painkiller misuse.


People often see their health care practitioner because of pain. Sometimes people will be prescribed opioids, morphine-like medications that include Percocet, Tylenol 3, Demerol, Fentanyl and others. When taken as prescribed, opioids can be effective for moderate to severe pain.

However, there is also a risk of addiction to opioids and, particularly when misused, there is a potential to overdose.

Between 2000 and 2009, there were 109 deaths from opioid use in Simcoe Muskoka. The death rate from opioids here is higher than Ontario’s average. Ontario leads all Canadian provinces in opioid consumption. And next to the U.S., Canada is the second-largest per capita consumer of prescription opioids.

While all age groups are affected, the issue is more concentrated among the young. A study in 2014 revealed that among people in Ontario aged 25 to 34, one of every eight deaths is related to opioids. Among youth in Grades 7 to 12, opioids are now the third-most-common illicitly used drug after alcohol and cannabis. In Simcoe Muskoka, about 11 per cent of Grade 7 to 12 students have tried opioids recreationally at least once.

It’s a tragic situation both for those who become addicted, as well as for their families. Any addiction can affect personal, family, work and community life. The impacts can spill over to seniors and others who have these prescribed medications at home, as they become potential victims of break-ins and theft.

The good news is that we all have the ability to help reduce this problem. Here are a few ways:

  • Educate yourself about prescription opioids.
  • Talk to your children, relatives, friends and medical professionals about the risks of these drugs. Ask questions about opioids and other ways to help reduce pain.
  • Use prescription medications as prescribed: see your medical professional regularly to assess if the medication is working well for you.
  • Monitor your prescriptions: know how many pills or patches you have, keep them out of sight and locked up at all times. Most high school students who have used opioids say they got them from home.
  • Clean out your expired and unused medications and take them to your pharmacy for free, safe disposal.

Help is available for people who are struggling with opioid dependence. The Canadian Mental Health Association and other counselling and addiction supports are located throughout Simcoe Muskoka. If you have questions about prescription painkiller use, ConnexOntario has a toll-free drug and alcohol confidential advice helpline available 24 hours a day at 1-800-565-8603.

For more information call Health Connection at 705-721-7520 or 1-877-721-7520, or visit our website at www.simcoemuskokahealth.org.

Dr. Lisa Simon is one of Simcoe Muskoka’s associate medical officers of health.

 


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