Canada’s health ministers are looking at ways of working together, including an electronic prescription database, to fight the growing crisis in opioid addictions.
“(It’s about) ensuring that there is consistent understanding no matter what jurisdiction you’re in about what has been prescribed to different patients (to avoid) further complications down the road,” Alberta Health Minister Sarah Hoffman said Thursday.
Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins said the provinces are making progress on ways to fight the scourge.
“All of us have a shared understanding that this is a multi-faceted problem and (the solution) needs to range from appropriate prescribing of illicit opioids to provision of pain clinics and alternatives to opioids to making sure we have access to supports (for patients),” said Hoskins.
Last month, the federal government reported that at least 2,816 Canadians died from opioid-related causes in 2016 — a total that’s expected to surpass 3,000 in 2017.
The Canadian Institute for Health Information warns the crisis is hitting the health system. It says 16 Canadians a day are being hospitalized for opioid toxicity in 2016-17, up from 13 a day two years prior — a rise of almost 20 per cent.
The ministers also discussed progress on joint purchases of medical equipment to save money and on progress for a national pharmacare plan.
The looming implementation date of legalized marijuana is expected to dominate the final day of talks on Friday.
Federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor is expected to deliver an update on federal progress ahead of legalized cannabis on July 1.
The federal government is beefing up criminal laws and handling the overarching health issues on marijuana such as packaging, health warnings and potency of edible cannabis.
The provinces will be in charge of regulating the sale of pot and are free to set the minimum legal age of consumption higher than Ottawa’s plan for it to be 18.
Critics have called Ottawa’s timeline too ambitious.
In July, premiers and territorial leaders did not call for a delay, but said they might ask for an extension if Ottawa does not help them resolve the issues related to distribution, safety, taxation, justice and public education.
Quebec Health Minister Gaetan Barrette said Thursday that whether everything will be ready in just over eight months hangs over the entire process.
“We’re working very hard to be ready, but … there are campaigns to be implemented, deployed on the networks and so on,” said Barrette.
“And on July 1, 2018, there will be no regulations put in place from the federal government on derivative products.”
Hoskins said a co-ordinated approach with the federal government is critical to make sure the word gets out on the health implications of legalized marijuana.
“(We need to) ensure that individuals who do consume cannabis are doing it with informed knowledge about the risks,” he said.
A number of provinces already have preliminary cannabis distribution plans in place. Ottawa and New Brunswick are looking at a minimum age of 19, while Alberta is proposing 18.
The Canadian Medical Association says 25 is the safe age health-wise but says 21 would be a more realistic number to keep youth from getting cannabis through the black market.