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Prescriptions for High-Dose Opioids Increase in Canada

Update Date: Sep 12, 2014 02:04 PM EDT

Prescription drug abuse is a growing problem in many countries. In order to prevent this situation from worsening, federal officials have created several programs, such as taking back unused prescription pills within the United States and re-categorizing opioids so that they are less accessible. However, despite these alarming rates, a new study conducted in Canada revealed that prescriptions for high-dose opioids are increasing.

For this study, the researchers from St. Michael's Hospital and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) examined available data and discovered that from 2006 to 2011, the percentage of prescriptions written for high-dose opioids increased by 23 percent. In terms of numbers, the incidence rate went from 781 units per 1,000 patients to 961 units per 1,000 patients. During this time period, doctors were recommended to avoid prescribing these drugs.

"We found that high-dose prescribing was widespread across the country, but the prevalence differed considerably between provinces," said lead author Tara Gomes, a scientist at the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St. Michael's Hospital. "These findings suggest that although a national strategy is likely necessary, different provinces may need slightly different approaches."

In terms of provinces, the researchers found that the rates increased only slightly in Alberta and British Columbia by 6.3 and 8.4 percent respectively. In Newfoundland and Labrador, and Saskatchewan provinces, the rates skyrocketed by 84.7 and 54 percent respectively.

"Provinces not only differed in their prevalence of high-dose opioid prescribing, but each province also appears to favor different opioids. For example, in Alberta and Ontario, oxycodone is the drug most commonly prescribed at high doses, while in British Columbia, it's morphine," said Gomes, who is also a scientist at ICES, according to the press release. "Our findings highlight the profound regional variation in high-dose opioid prescribing across Canada. These results have important public health and policy consequences, given the elevated risk of overdose among individuals treated with high doses of these drugs."

The research team concluded that more has to be done to reduce these rates and prevention the prescription drug abuse. The study was published in the journal, Canadian Family Physician.

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