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CMA wants “momentum turned into action” on prescription drug abuse

The CMA emerged from a recent national symposium on the misuse of prescription drugs with a call for concerted action.

“It is important that we translate the momentum generated today into action,” CMA President Louis Hugo Francescutti said following the Jan. 24 meeting, which was co-hosted by Health Canada and the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. The symposium attracted about 40 representatives of groups such as the medical regulatory colleges, the RCMP and the Assembly of First Nations, as well as addiction treatment organizations and drug companies.

Data collected in 2012 indicated that 410,000 Canadians had reported abusing “psychoactive pharmaceuticals” in the past year, more than double the number in 2011.

“Never before in Canada have this many people from the health field, law enforcement, First Nations and government come together to take collective action on prescription drug abuse using the National Anti-Drug Strategy as a guide,” said Federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose.

Francescutti, who met privately with Ambrose prior to the meeting and co-chaired the discussion on prescriber practices, raised several points, including:

  • A more robust pain management education strategy is needed for medical students, residents and practising physicians.
  • There needs to be increased awareness of non-pharmaceutical options for pain management.

He also said the CMA’s prescribing concerns are not limited to the potential misuse of opioid drugs, citing the need for a public awareness campaign on the misuse of antimicrobial drugs.

This was the second time the CMA has tackled prescribing issues in three months. During a November presentation to the Commons Standing Committee on Health, CMA President-elect Chris Simpson spelled out the nature of problems surrounding opioid prescribing for MPs, pointing out that a review of a benefit program in Ontario found that 898 opioid prescriptions were dispensed per 1,000 First Nations individuals (aged 15 and older) in 2007.

He called for a nationwide response that includes:

  • educational programs for health professionals
  • public education to address prevention and safe use of medication

Simpson said a strategy is needed because of the challenges physicians face in assessing patients who request these drugs. “Physicians assess whether the use is clinically indicated and whether the benefits outweigh the risks,” he said. “The challenge is that there is no objective test for assessing pain, and therefore the prescription of opioids rests to a great extent on mutual trust between physicians and patients.”

A CMA brief presented to the committee concluded: “[We] believe that the misuse and abuse of prescription medication is a serious problem, and because of its complexity it requires a complex and multifaceted solution.”

There was some good news about the fight to reduce prescription drug abuse in February’s federal budget. Francescutti described a $44.9 million expansion of the National Anti-Drug Strategy to include prescription drug abuse as a “step ahead.” The expansion will take place over five years.

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