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Finding the Right Prescription to Tackle Opioids

By Denise Smith

Substance Misuse Prevention and Harm Reduction Coordinator

Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit

‘Opioids,’ ‘fentanyl,’ ‘carfentanil,’ and ‘naloxone’ are terms we regularly hear in the news. Making sense of these words doesn’t require a degree in chemistry, but rather a degree of understanding as to what they mean for us in this region.

Opioids are powerful, prescription painkillers that we often take for relief from certain medical conditions. The problem is that some opioids are highly addictive, leading to their misuse and resulting rise in opioid-related overdoses and deaths across Canada. A surge of some bootlegged opioids – especially fentanyl and a much more powerful variation of it, carfentanil – is showing up in illicit patches, powder and pills.

In this region (Northumberland County, Haliburton County and the City of Kawartha Lakes) in 2016, there were 74 visits to hospital emergency rooms, 23 hospitalizations, and 11 deaths due to opioids. While these statistics are not at epidemic levels like British Columbia, even one preventable overdose and death in our community is one too many!

What can we do to help prevent needless opioid overdoses and deaths in our community?

First, we need to be non-judgmental... realizing drugs are part of our society. People from all incomes, jobs and walks of life use drugs for many reasons: adverse childhood experiences, curiosity, peer pressure, low self-esteem, to get a rush, or to deal with negative feelings/situations. Some people develop problematic substance use because they become addicted to legitimately-prescribed painkillers. In certain cases, substance misuse may occur leading to potential overdoses. The fact is that overdoses do not discriminate – they can happen to any individual!

Awareness is the next step in tackling the issue, especially knowing what we can do about it. This includes:

• Safely disposing of unused/expired prescription medications (like opioids) through pharmacies.

• Promoting the availability of free naloxone kits through many Ontario pharmacies. Naloxone is an emergency medicine that temporarily reverses the effects of an opioid overdose until the person can get hospital treatment (naloxone usually lasts for 30 minutes or so). Free naloxone kits are available to both current/past opioid users, as well as family, friends and others who can help someone at risk of an overdose.

• Immediately calling 9-1-1 if someone is experiencing a drug overdose. In Canada, a person who calls 9-1-1 in an overdose situation is protected from police charges for drug possession under new federal legislation (Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act/Bill C-224).

• Discouraging people who use drugs from doing so alone.

• Encouraging people not to mix drugs with other substances like alcohol, and reminding people who use drugs to take smaller amounts of the substance – especially if they have not recently used it.

• Supporting people who are seeking treatment for their drug use by directing them to local support programs like FOURcast Addiction Services.

• Learning more and assisting in the development of a Regional Drug Strategy for Haliburton County, Northumberland County and the City of Kawartha Lakes.

Our area is not immune to the risks of opioids and other drugs. Already, local police services have seen bootleg fentanyl turning up in illicit drugs seized here. With greater community awareness and action, we can help reduce opioid overdoses... saving lives in the process!