Opioids: There Should Be More Supervised Prescribing Programs, Says Study
An Ontario study advocates the establishment of more supervised prescribing programs to limit overdoses.
More addicts should have access to programs allowing them to have pharmaceutical opioids supplied by a doctor rather than street drugs, according to an Ontario study.
The study published Monday in the Journal of the Canadian Medical Association focuses on the secure supply program created in 2016 in London, Southwestern Ontario, through which drug abusers at high risk of overdose may receive pharmaceutical opioids.
The report's lead author, Toronto epidemiologist Tara Gomes, of the Unity Health Hospital Network, assessed the data of the program in London from January 2016 to March 2019.
According to her, emergency department visits and hospitalizations decreased during the year following the registration of participants in the program, which she describes as very safe.
“There were no opioid-related deaths in the year after participants joined the program.
—Tara Gomes, professor of pharmacology at the University of Toronto
According to Dr. Gomes, this type of program should be offered to more drug users at high risk of overdose.
- Emergency visits: -14 visits/100 program participants
- Hospitalizations: -5 hospitalizations/100 participants
- Infection rate: -1.6 infections/100 participants
- Cost of non-primary healthcare ( does not include the cost of medication): -922$/participant
The initiator of the safer supply program in London, the London InterCommunity Health Centre, has received more than $6.5 million in federal government grants for the period extending from March 2020 to March 2024.
Dr. Gomes brings two caveats to her study.
First, she notes that participants in the program have also benefited from the social services offered by the London InterCommunity health centre, which is piloting the supervised prescribing initiative. For her, this combination of services is essential to increase the success rate.
Furthermore, due to a lack of data, she cannot quantify the percentage of pharmaceutical opioids provided to participants who are used for other purposes. Dr. Gomes believes some attendees share their supply with friends and loved ones to help out.
According to her, this reflects the fact that there are not enough programs offering “safe sources” of opioids to meet the needs in the community.
The study indicates that there were more than 29,000 opioid-related deaths in Canada from January 2016 to December 2021, with most fatal overdoses occurring in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario.
Thomas Kerr, director of research at the BC Addictions Centre, thinks the new study could have an impact across the country.
Unfortunately, the debate over the issue of safe supply is laced with misinformation and, in some cases, the politicization of science. It is therefore important to have access to this kind of data demonstrating that the program is not only safe, but also that it produces positive effects, he says.
Map of Federal Grants for Overdose Programs
With information from La Presse canadienne