New opioid guidelines aim to alleviate Canada-wide addiction: NS doctor

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Physicians across the country are getting a first glimpse at recommendations for new opioid guidelines. Alexa MacLean reports – Feb 1, 2017

The first draft of new opioid prescribing guidelines has been rolled out to physicians across the country and a Nova Scotia doctor says it will help prevent future addictions while also helping those who are already dependent on the drug.

READ MORE: More Canadian babies born with opioid addiction and withdrawal

“So what we’re talking about is new national guidelines for the use of opioids in treating chronic pain,” said Dr. Gus Grant, the registrar of the Nova Scotia College of Physicians and Surgeons.

The recommendations were led by a steering committee at McMaster University’s National Pain Centre. Grant sat on the the advisory panel and said the main objective of the new protocols are clear.

“The first message is that opioids are not the front-line choice for treating patients with chronic pain,” he said.

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Nationwide health care problem

Opioid addiction has been identified as a leading health care problem in Nova Scotia and across the country.

“We have that issue in front of us in Nova Scotia where the last five to six years we have had an average of 60 people dying a year from acute opioid overdose deaths. Almost all of that has been prescription opioids,” said Dr. Robert Strang, chief public health officer, during a November 2016 press conference held by the province.

Strang along with provincial health ministers and other medical professionals, attended the National Opioid Conference and Summit held in Ottawa, also held in November.

READ MORE: Politicians search for national solution to Canada’s opioid crisis at summit in Ottawa

The conference was aimed at addressing the fentanyl crisis and widespread opioid addiction due to years of over-prescribing, something Grant said has grown as time passed.

“We’ve gone through a period of time perhaps over the past 20-25 years, where the use of opioids to treat pain has expanded and expanded,” Grant said.

New guidelines

One of the strategies being implemented on a national level is in updating the best practice guidelines for opioid prescribing methods.

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“There’s somewhere in the neighbourhood of 4,000 patients in Nova Scotia, maintained on dosages of opioids that are higher than the guidelines,” Grant said.

He said the new guidelines will be based on best practice evidence of today’s standards and are also meant to develop a plan to help those already addicted to opioids.

“The patients who are on these medications right now, they need to be managed sensitively and appropriately and not ruggedly. They can’t be thrown into withdrawal. They can’t be abandoned,” he said.

The National Pain Centre is expected to submit the finalized version to Health Canada by the end of March 2017.