By Jenn Watt
Haliburton County has the second highest rate of opioid use amongthose accessing the Ontario drug benefit program out of 49 regionsaccording to a study by the Ontario Drug Policy Research Network.
In 2015 the county had 1810 opioid users the report shows with81 opioid maintenance therapy users. Hospital admissions in 2014related to opioids had the county ranked 13th in the province withless than five admissions and ranked 12th in emergency departmentvisits with seven.
The county was near the bottom of the ranking when it came toopioid-related deaths in 2013 with none.
However numbers can be deceiving says scientist Tara Gomes ofSt. Michael’s Hospital particularly when it comes to areas withsmall populations.
“One of the issues we run into in the smaller regions is thatthere can be no deaths in a given year or a very small number” shetold the Echo. “That can make it appear … as though your rankwould be very low because there were no deaths in 2013.”
However when the county is examined over five years its rankleaps to third in the province for deaths. Again Gomes notes thepopulation size when interpreting the numbers.
“There were only six deaths but because of the small populationsize the rate at which those deaths occurred is higher” she says.
However six deaths is still quite high which the researcher says“highlights the fact that those high prescribing rates might alsobe leading to this increased risk of overdosing and dying.”
Opioid prescribing is a national problem. The powerful painkillersare incredibly effective but can also easily be abused and areaddictive. Public health officials have been warning of the dangersof the medication. In particular those patients who are prescribed ahigh dose of the medication have a real risk of overdosing becausethe body acclimatizes to the drug which can lead to increasing dosesover time.
“Studies conducted in Ontario and elsewhere have demonstratedthat rates of opioid prescribing in general – and high dose opioidprescribing in particular – are on the rise” the study reads.“Furthermore the rising prevalence of abuse misuse and addictionrelated to opioids has driven concerns regarding accidental opioidoverdoses that may lead to hospitalizations for toxicity andsometimes death.”
Looking at the statistics for Haliburton County in particularGomes sees a hopeful trend in the number of people seeking addictionservices which is accounted for in the opioid maintenance therapy.
“I think that’s a positive sign because we know that there arepeople who have become addicted to these drugs across the provinceand there have been concerns around the ability to access addictionservices so rises in the use of opioid maintenance therapy are apositive sign” she said.
Opioids in the county are overwhelmingly “immediate releasecombination agents” – acute pain drugs such as Tylenol 3s. Theseare typically a short-term drug she says and aren’t typicallyassociated with overdoses.
“Instead it’s the longer acting drugs that are moreconcerning [for overdose]” she says.
The purpose of the study was to show the degree of variationacross the province in opioid usage and is geared to healthprofessionals and agencies.
Gomes said people in Haliburton should note from her research thatthere is a high rate of opioid prescribing that could indicate somework needs to be done.
“I think for Haliburton County we know there aren’t a hugenumber of people who are dying of opioid overdose … which I thinkis reassuring but at the same time the fact that opioids are beingprescribed at such a high level – and that we do see a fairly highrate of emergency department visits for opioid overdoses as well– should perhaps point to some underlying issue in thecommunity that there may be some overprescribing. There may be someaddiction issues that might need more resources in the community toproperly address” she says.