Earlier this month, Health Canada implemented a new policy requiring a warning label on all opioid prescriptions (CBC News, 2018). The labels, which alert those taking a prescription drug to the dangers of opioid addiction, are intended to mitigate the Canadian opioid crisis, which has claimed over 10,000 lives to date (CBC News, 2018; Davies, 2018).
As the federal government pursues legislative options (CBC, 2018), the opioid crisis is increasingly calling upon local expertise and resources. Earlier this year, Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson noted that opioids claim an average of four British Colombian lives a day, including at least one in Vancouver (Beatie, 2018).
Here is a closer look at the opioid crisis in Canada, which considers health risks, infrastructure, mitigation strategies, as well as how addictions counsellors can help tackle this problem.
Opioids Present Complex Health and Addiction Risks
Across North America, opioids like codeine, fentanyl, and oxycodone have produced a surge of addictions and overdoses. Opioid drugs, which can be obtained over the counter or illegally, produce highly-addictive feelings of pain relief and euphoria (Government of Canada, 2018). The origins of the opioid crisis are commonly traced to the over-prescription of painkillers beginning in the late 1990s, with pharmaceutical companies failing to alert physicians of their full addictive potential (NIH, 2018). Opioids expose people to the combined risks of physical and psychological addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (2018), an estimated 80 per cent of Americans with a heroin addiction first had an opioid-related problem. Canadians are second only to the US in opioid use, with one in five adults being prescribed opioids in the last five years (Ireland, 2018). Among youth and marginalized communities, opioid risks are complicated by the presence of fentanyl in street drugs like cocaine (Ireland, 2018).
Opioids Are Putting Greater Pressure on the Canadian Healthcare System
Discussing this “major public health crisis”, Canada’s chief public health officer Theresa Tam noted that there were more opioid-related deaths in 2016 than HIV/Aids deaths at the height of the 1995 epidemic (CIHI, 2018). The rate of opioid hospitalization has risen 53 per cent in the last ten years, with an estimated 16 hospital cases every day in Canada. While opioid concerns were first raised in western Canada, cases have since spread throughout the country and across demographics (CIHI, 2018). Combining legislative, medical, and social factors, the opioid crisis is an evolving and contested public health issue. Among recent developments, a medical consensus is emerging around the use of naloxone, a drug that stalls the fatal effects of opioid overdoses. (Beattie, 2018). Other developments, such as safe injection sites for opioids, are gaining traction with a recent poll finding that 67 percent of Canadians support these sites (Ireland, 2018).
Future addictions counsellors may also hear of decriminalization efforts, especially as NGOs like Moms Stop the Harm highlight social support and addiction treatment over imprisonment for illegal drug use (Grauer, 2018). However, many of these options still remain highly contested to this day as debate continues over the best approaches for tackling this public health crisis.
Students in Addictions Counsellor Courses Can Help With Recovery
Fortunately, graduates of addictions counsellor courses can have a huge impact on Canada’s ability to address and halt the opioid epidemic. In fact, voices from all sides of the issue are calling for counselling and community solutions—providing important common ground in the discourse surrounding opioid treatment (McMaster, 2018). Whether they are the main treatment option or a complement to drug-based therapies, counselling services are an essential component to recovery and long-term wellbeing. In addition, the crisis is increasingly calling upon counselling services to relieve pressure from hospitals. A joint report (2017) by the British Columbia Centre on Substance abuse and the B.C. Ministry of Health has noted how psychosocial treatment can help those with an addiction manage opioid withdrawal. Professionals with addictions counsellor training thus play an important and growing role in mitigating the opioid crisis.
Do you want to make a difference in your community?
Contact Rhodes Wellness College to learn more about earning your diploma in addiction counselling.
Beattie, S. (2018). Experts agree naloxone is central to fighting Canada’s opioid crisis – but they also say it’s not a ‘wonder drug’. The Star. Retrieved from: https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2018/04/14/in-96-opioid-overdoses-the-person-received-naloxone-they-still-didnt-make-it.html’
B. C. Ministry of Health and British Columbia Centre on Substance Abuse. (2017). A Guideline for the Clinical Management of Opioid Use Disorder. Retrieved from: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/health/practitioner-pro/bc-guidelines/bc_oud_guidelines.pdf Canadian
Institute for Health Information. (2017). Opioid crisis having “significant” impact on Canada’s health care system. Retrieved from: https://www.cihi.ca/en/opioid-crisis-having-significant-impact-on-canadas-health-care-system
CBC News. (2018). Health Canada’s prescription opioid stickers will warn of addiction risk. Retrieved from: http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/opioid-prescription-stickers-1.4644665
Davies, D. (2018). Opinion: Canada must hold drug companies accountable for opioid crisis. The Hill Times. Retrieved from: https://www.hilltimes.com/2018/04/18/canada-must-hold-drug-companies-accountable-opioid-crisis/140890
Grauer, P. (2018). Mothers across North America unite to combat opioid crisis through compassion and policy reform. The Star Vancouver. Retrieved from: https://www.thestar.com/vancouver/2018/05/07/mothers-across-north-america-unite-to-combat-opioid-crisis-through-compassion-and-policy-reform.html
Government of Canada. (2018). About Opioids. Retrieved from: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/substance-abuse/prescription-drug-abuse/opioids/about.html#a1
Hedegaard, H., Warner, M., Miniño, A. M. (2017). Drug Overdose in the United States, 1999-2016. NCHS Data Brief No. 294. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db294.pdf
Ireland, N. (2018) Opioid crisis strikes ‘close to home’ for many, poll says. CBC. Retrieved from: http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/opioid-crisis-canada-angus-reid-poll-1.4482981
McMaster University. (2018). Canadian Guideline for Safe and Effective Use of Opioids for Chronic Non-Cancer Pain. Retrieved from: http://nationalpaincentre.mcmaster.ca/opioid/cgop_b05_r21.html
National Institute on Drug Abuse (2018). Opioid Overdose Crisis. Retrieved from: https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids/opioid-overdose-crisis#six