Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Big-Dose Prescriptions of Potent Painkillers to 2,100 Nova Scotians 'Disturbing'

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Big-Dose Prescriptions of Potent Painkillers to 2,100 Nova Scotians 'Disturbing'

Article excerpt

Prescriptions of painkillers 'disturbing'

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HALIFAX - More than 2,100 Nova Scotians have been given big-dose prescriptions of highly addictive painkillers this year, and addictions experts say the "disturbing" number demands the province must reform doctors' prescribing habits.

Figures provided to The Canadian Press indicate 2,113 patients are receiving levels of opioids of 200 milligrams or more per day of morphine -- enough to cause a fatal overdose to a newcomer to opioids.

Dr. Gus Grant, the registrar of the province's College of Physicians and Surgeons, said the college is continuing to monitor physicians' prescribing habits, and has been stepping up efforts to educate physicians to shift away from large prescriptions.

"To me it's a disturbing number. It indicates we have a large cohort of patients maintained on dosages of medicine that are really unsupported by evidence and which exposes these patients to risks that exceed the benefits," he said in a telephone interview on Monday.

"It demonstrates the problem is of a scale that few outside the medical profession can really appreciate."

He said it's important to recall that about one fifth of the patients are being treated for cancer and may need larger prescriptions for end-of-life care, and said he's encouraged the prescription monitoring program's figures show a decrease from the 2,507 patients on opioids in 2015.

The prescription figures come just weeks after the province announced a task force to consider ways to avoid a British Columbia-style overdose epidemic, while informing the public there have been 49-opioid-related deaths caused both by street drugs and prescriptions.

The Canadian guidelines were created in 2010 by the national pain centre at McMaster University. They say chronic non-cancer pain can be managed effectively "in most patients" with the dosages of 200 milligrams per day of morphine or the equivalent, and says anything higher requires "careful re-assessment."

The Nova Scotia college has gone further, adopting as "best practice" a guideline from the U.S.-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to avoid doses in excess of 90 milligrams. …

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