Reality check: Is Health Canada giving addicts free heroin?

Anna Mehler Paperny – Global News

The short answer is yes. Kinda: Health Canada has approved funding for medically administered heroin for 16 addicts – and only these 16 – under its Special Access Program. The program’s designed to provide nonmarketed drugs to people suffering from “serious or life-threatening conditions when conventional therapies have failed, are unsuitable, or unavailable.”

It has since been slammed by Health Minister Rona Ambrose on the grounds that its decision contradicts Conservative government policy.

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Ontario doctors still in the dark on drug database

Remember back when Ontario rolled out an online narcotics-prescription database – one meant to track exactly who is prescribing what to whom? The idea is to prevent “double-doctoring” and ensuring that doctors, pharmacists and Health Ministry officials ensure that people who need drugs are getting them.

The database was in testing phase as of November, 2011 and was supposed to be operational early this year. But the people prescribing the drugs still can’t access it. That means they have no idea what other drugs a potential patient could be taking, or was taking. In some cases, it means patients can’t get the drugs they need.

Toronto doctor Irfan Dhalla said doctors still have no idea when they’re going to get in on this database – but they’d really, really like to.

No plans to make Suboxone more easily available in Ontario, Deb Matthews says

Photo by Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail

Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews says the province has no immediate plans to put Suboxone on the Ontario Drug Benefit, which would make it more readily available to treat addicts who can’t get methadone, a more common treatment for opioid addiction. Health-care practitioners, especially in remote areas, want to use Suboxone more in cases where there are simply no licensed methadone doctors around, or no spaces available. Buprenorphine, the active ingredient in Suboxone, is supposed to be safer and easier for others (nurses, for example) to give out. It’s also really expensive.

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Painkiller deaths double in Ontario

Tuesday, December 8, 2009 – Globe and Mail

Painkillers are causing twice the number of overdose deaths they were two decades ago, a new study has revealed. And most of those who died obtained the medications through a doctor’s prescription and had seen a physician within the last month of their life.

The increase mirrors a dramatic rise in prescriptions for oxycodone. The potent opiate, found in OxyContin and Percocet, has proliferated in an epidemic of chronic pain turning Canadians into a nation of pill-poppers – using more prescription opioids per capita than any country but the United States and Belgium.

It’s an indication that many doctors have underestimated the power and complexity of prescription opioids, and their ability to harm as well as help, said Irfan Dhalla, a doctor at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and the report’s primary author.

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Canada, you need an intervention

Saturday, November 14, 2009 – Globe and Mail

Janey Nagle wasn’t looking for kicks when she began courting a drug habit. The Percocets her doctor prescribed were the only thing that could take away the excruciating pain that lingered a decade after a car accident threw her into a windshield with such force that her face left an imprint in the glass.

For the first two years, the painkillers did the trick. The Perth, Ont., mother of four was able to work and look after her family. But after a while she couldn’t get through the day without the pills’ euphoric effect, and that demanded higher and higher doses.

Fearful her doctor would cut her off, Ms. Nagle looked elsewhere. She spent hundreds of dollars a day on prescription drugs bought off the street, primarily from friends and acquaintances. She photocopied her prescriptions and filled each one repeatedly at pharmacies around Perth, Kingston and Smiths Falls.

“It was a horrible, panicked feeling every morning when I woke up,” says Ms. Nagle, now 43. She remembers the daily dilemma: “How am I going to get them? Where am I going to get the money?”

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