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U of S researchers working to reduce opioid use through chronic pain management

A new program led by University of Saskatchewan pharmacy researchers aims to reduce the risk of opioid-related harm and unintentional overdose.
A new program led by University of Saskatchewan pharmacy researchers aims to reduce the risk of opioid-related harm and unintentional overdose. File Photo / Getty Images

A University of Saskatchewan (U of S) pilot project aims to improve patient health and reduce opioid use through chronic pain management.

Pharmacy researchers will lead a team to implement and test the new approach.

READ MORE: Opioids an increasing public health concern in Saskatchewan: minister

“This innovative approach will enable pharmacists, in consultation with physicians, to help patients better manage their chronic pain and use medication more safely, particularly helping those patients who are taking very high doses of opioids,” Jane Alcorn, dean of the U of S College of Pharmacy and Nutrition, said in a press release.

Family doctors and nurse practitioners will refer patients to pharmacists who will then create individualized pain management plans.

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“For the most complex cases, a pain specialist physician will collaborate by phone with the pharmacist and the patient’s family doctor,” U of S assistant professor Katelyn Halpape said in a statement.

“By following this approach, our hope is that the majority of chronic pain patients will not need referrals to pain specialist physicians.”

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Pharmacists will also identify patients who are good candidates for therapies that help treat addiction to opioid drugs like heroin, oxycodone and Percocet. These therapies involve using medications like methadone, as well as providing frequent support and follow-up care.

The team estimates that consultations will be provided to roughly 480 high-risk patients annually.

Susan Tupper, a strategy consultant for pain quality improvement with the Saskatchewan Health Authority, said one in five people in the province live with chronic pain.

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“That’s over 250,000 people. For some, pain can have a devastating impact on their quality of life and ability to work, go to school, or participate in everyday activities,” Tupper said in a press release.

“We need innovative solutions, like this exciting new program, to help people living with pain access appropriate care.”

READ MORE: 1 in 8 Canadians have a family member or close friend with an opioid addiction: Poll

Officials said the program aims to reduce the risk of opioid-related harm and unintentional overdose and has the long-term potential to reduce emergency room visits.

If successful, officials said the program could be expanded to other provinces.

“Canadians are the second-highest users of opioids per capita in the world and hospital visits and deaths have been increasing dramatically,” U of S pharmacy professor Derek Jorgenson said in a statement.

“Pharmacists are uniquely positioned to help address the crisis.”

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, over 4,300 people died from opioid-related, unintentional overdoses in the county in 2018.

It was announced on Tuesday that Health Canada has awarded the project more than $1.7 million over three years.

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The funding will be used to hire three full-time pharmacists and one part-time pain specialist physician.

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