The epidemic of opioid addiction is claiming the lives of thousands of
Canadians every year. Opioids are a broad group of pain-relieving drugs that work
by reacting with opioid receptors in our cells (Krieger, 2017). Opioids also induce
a feeling of euphoria in the user, giving them the potential to be used
irresponsibly. Opioids can be obtained in a variety of ways, from something as simple
as prescribed prescriptions to more dangerous illegal methods. Canada is in the
centre of a crisis, with the abuse and epidemic of opioid use. The most common
forms of opioids used in Canada are heroin and illicit fentanyl.
Throughout majority of the twentieth century, it was widely believed amongst
professionals that the prolonged use of opioids for the treatment of chronic
pain was ineffective. Although, around the 1990’s, a significant change occurred,
and a significant increase in the yearly usage of opioids for various treatments
were seen (Ubelacker, 2017). A major complication occurring from this increase
was that people started to use opioids for non-medical/recreational purposes.
Despite all that, opioids were and still are some of the most effective drugs
for the relief of pain and suffering felt by an individual.
Canada’s opioid epidemic can be traced back to its roots in 1992. It was
caused by a drug called OxyContin created by the company Purdue Pharma. It was
introduced as a method to improve the “efficiency and quality of pain
management” (Robertson and Howeltt, 2017). This drug instantly became popular
for over a decade, and was one of the most lucrative pharmaceutical inventions
to hit the market (Robertson and Howlett, 2017). As time progressed, problems in
society started to emerge with the implementation of this drug. OxyContin was
not a commercial success because although it was effective at treating pain, it
was also highly addictive. Patients who were prescribed to the pills for treatments,
such as back pain, were becoming dependent upon them. Some patients became
addicted and required stronger and stronger doses for effective treatments as
time went on (Robertson and Howlett, 2017).
From this, we can see that a major contributor to the opioid addiction
faced by many people is the tolerance they build while taking these drugs. Users
of these drugs become so used to the effects of these drugs that eventually
they are ineffective and require stronger doses to effectively treat the user. According
to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, an average of 16 people are admitted
to the hospital every day for opioid overdoses (Howlett, 2017). This number is
very large, and has been aided by the rise of readily available drugs distributed
by street vendors illegally.
This opioid addiction is furthered by the lack of control from the
Government of Canada on the distribution and over-prescription of these drugs,
as well as on the control and regulation of the illegal sales of opioids. The most
commonly overprescribed painkillers, are oxycodone, hydromorphone and fentanyl
(“About Opioids”, n.d.). These drugs are extremely powerful and potent. With
the arrival of illicit fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, the opioid addiction has
been furthered. This is the case as these synthetic opioids exist in the form of
cheap drugs such as heroine and cocaine and are sold by street dealers readily.
Unfortunately, despite the evidence regarding the addictive nature of
opioids, they are one of the most effective and quick methods for pain relief.
The opioid crisis is important because it brings to light the consequential issue
regarding the greed for power and money between companies that are supposedly
making drugs to help us. For example, Purdue Pharma knew of the side effects
and the addictive nature of the OxyContin drug that they released, but they
refused to acknowledge it as they were making billions of dollars. To make
matters worse, other companies started to compete to produce this drug, as they
saw the financial benefits and wanted to be allowed into the market as well
(Robertson and Howlett, 2017).
As of right now, the Government of Canada does not have a solution or a
plan for the opioid crisis. Although, Dr. Paul Cary from Cambridge, Ontario
states that the solution to the opioid crisis is extremely simple. He says that
the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario could stop the opioid crisis
if they banned doctors from lecturing other doctors if they were paid
(sponsored) by drug companies (“Cambridge doctor says solution to opioid crisis
‘extremely simple'”, 2017). Drug companies such as Purdue Pharma pay doctors to
make presentations at continuing education events, and even provide them with
drug samples and teaching aids (“Cambridge doctor says solution to opioid
crisis ‘extremely simple'”, 2017). Using techniques like this, companies can
heavily market their products to unsuspecting listeners and increase the use of
their drug. Thus, if we were to stop the sponsoring of lecturers, we would be
able to treat patients without a bias towards specific drugs.
Another solution, for the opioid crisis, is an increase in the amount of
addiction science taught to doctors. In recent years, we have found and created
treatments for the addiction of drugs, especially if diagnosed in the early
stages. In present day, this method of using addiction science to treat patients
usually results in failure, due to the lack of knowledge in treatment options
by the doctors (Klimas, 2017). From this, a myriad of problems for untreated
patients can occur. An example of this is when Purdue Pharma told doctors that OxyContin
was not addictive, and this lie created the opioid problem that we have in
Canada today (Klimas, 2017).
This addiction of opioids could have been easily prevented by better
training of our doctors and the implementation of interventions that we have
developed (Klimas, 2017). For treating the opioid addiction, the drug suboxone
could have been used. In the past, there were restrictions and only a small number
of physicians could prescribe the drug. However, now in current medical
practices, barriers have been lifted to make suboxone readily available to more
people. Suboxone is used as a first line of treatment for the patient and is benefiting
the lives of those that are addicted.
In conclusion, opioids are a dangerous category of prescription drugs.
The overdose of opioids is a major problem and is claiming the lives of
thousands of Canadians every year. While drug companies may advertise their
products as safe and effective, doctors and users must always keep in mind the
potential hazards that can occur. With modern day advancements in medicine and
the increased awareness in issues surrounding opioid addiction, we can start to
treat these addictions properly. The government should promote use of suboxone
and a long-term treatment plan for the people who are affected by this crisis. We
must however start the implementation of solutions immediately as this crisis,
if left untreated, will only get worse.