In 2016, there were 922 overdose deaths in British Columbia. In Vancouver, 15 people died from opioid-related overdoses in just one week alone, and the number of opioid deaths in the Province is expected to reach as high as 1,400 by the end of 2017, making it a public health emergency.
As a result of the increased number of opioid-related deaths across the Province, new guidelines based on one similar to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were established for physicians and the prescribing of opioids and other highly addictive drugs, making British Columbia the first in Canada to be bound, legally, by such guidelines. Medications such as opioids often act as a band-aid when treating chronic pain disorders or other health problems, and they can actually make pain worse.
Patients can often develop a high tolerance to opioids over time, which can then lead to addiction and dependency, and can also ultimately result in individuals turning to other unsafe ways to get the drug – which is often off the street, and is why we have heard of so many cases of drugs being laced with Fentanyl, or its more potent cousin, Carfentanil. Even when ingested in small amounts, these drugs can be deadly.
Under the new guidelines, physicians must sit down and discuss with patients the dangers of opioids and offer alternatives for chronic conditions such as back pain, headaches and other ailments. It is important for physicians like Dr. Ali Ghahary to also carefully analyze a patient’s personal and medical history, as some patients may be more vulnerable to addiction such as those who have been abused, or those who come from families with a history of addiction or have previously battled addiction themselves. Doctors should not only weigh the risks and benefits of opioids, but all types of medications, and should also review the patient’s PharmaNet file, as those who are prone to addiction will often do what is called “doctor-shopping” and collect multiple prescriptions from different healthcare professionals…to either get more pulls for themselves, pills to give to others, or pills to sell.