Canadian Medical Association

The Canadian Federation of Medical Students (CFMS) used its annual lobby day — held last week on Parliament Hill — to urge the federal government to step up efforts to address Canada's opioid crisis, even to the point of declaring a public health emergency, as was done last year in British Columbia.

"(In) talking to global health leaders at medical schools across the country about the health care issues in their communities, the need and difficulty in addressing the opioid crisis arose as a common theme," said Jessica Bryce, CFMS Vice-President, Global Health. "Although some communities are affected disproportionately more than others, no one is immune."

As Bryce and her CFMS colleagues met with Members of Parliament, Senators and other parliamentarians, they stressed that successfully tackling the opioid crisis will involve a multidisciplinary health care approach and interventions on the part of all levels of government. That is something that medical students are eager to help make happen.

"The current (opioid) crisis represents a significant public health issue for patients, medical professionals and the public," said Franco Rizzuti, CFMS President. "Equally important to the clinical education and advancements made by medical professionals is our engagement with public policy makers, where the translation of what we hear from our patients and neighbours turns into discourse to improve lifestyles, communities and populations through robust policy."

Canadians are the second highest per capita consumers of prescription opioid drugs in the world. Widespread availability of opioids has led to increasing rates of opioid dependency and a demand for illicit opioids nationwide. The depth and breadth of the problem lie at the core of the CFMS' call for the federal government to declare a public health emergency to help find workable solutions.

The CFMS strongly supported the federal government's introduction of Bill C-37, which will update Canada's drug strategy to provide for a comprehensive approach featuring harm reduction as a core pillar of Canada's drug policy, alongside prevention, treatment and enforcement. The bill passed third reading in Parliament on Feb. 15.

"While this national action is positive and worthy of recognition, the CFMS believes the federal government can go further in addressing the upstream causes of the opioid crisis," said the CFMS in a news release. "Inadequate access to effective treatment for chronic pain, including non-pharmacological options, and a lack of understanding of the complex interactions between mental illness and substance misuse are two areas where further action is necessary."

As part of its participation in the Pan-Canadian Collaborative for Safe Prescribing, the CMA is asking physicians to provide input into the new Canadian opioid guidelines, which are being developed by a team at the Michael G. DeGroote National Pain Centre at McMaster University, with funding from Health Canada.

The final version of the 2017 Guidelines for Use of Opioids in Chronic Non‐Cancer Pain will be informed by the feedback received, so input from front-line physicians is vital. Physicians can click here to review the draft guidelines and provide feedback before the deadline of Feb. 28.

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