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We Can Take Steps to Make Opioid Prescribing Safer

Posted on October 16, 2018 by Tanya Achilles

I was honoured in February to be asked to lead the work on the PrescribeIT™ Opioid Digital Health Strategy. It is a critical piece of work as we continue to see the number of deaths from opioid overdoses increase. In my time as a pharmacist, I have seen both the benefits and struggles these drugs can bring, and I believe that there are steps we can take to make opioid prescribing safer.

I keep a file on my desktop with news stories of patients that have lost the battle with prescription opioids. The one that haunts me is the story of a 16-year-old boy from British Columbia who received opioids for a soccer injury and later turned to illicit drugs. One news story reports, “Elliot’s parents tried desperately to restart the heart of their 16-year-old son as he lay unresponsive on his bed.” He reminds me of my seven-year-old son: dark brown hair, big eyes and a love of sports. It is a reminder for me that this story can happen to any of us.

The numbers being published about the opioid crisis in Canada tell a compelling story:

  • The Public Health Agency of Canada reports 3,987 deaths from opioids in 2017 (twice as many lives lost when compared to automobile accidents)
  • A recent study in the Journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependence found that the majority of overdose patients have had a recent opioid prescription (73 per cent in Ontario, 56 per cent in B.C.)

But from my time as a pharmacist I know that there are many patients that don’t end up in the headlines, as they and their families struggle with challenges related to prescription opioid use.

I am fortunate to have found a dedicated group to join me on our PrescribeIT™ Opioid Working Group. This group is drafting a set of recommendations for features PrescribeIT™* could develop to support evidence-based prescribing of opioids at the point of care. When these recommendations are implemented, PrescribeIT™ could, for example, help prescribers easily identify when a patient is receiving doses of opioids that exceed the national guidelines or when a patient is receiving opioid prescriptions from multiple prescribers.

Throughout this work we will be collaborating with patients, prescribers and other stakeholders to ensure information presented at the point of care is relevant and encourages patient-centred care.

In closing, I will pass on a quote by Dr. Vivek Murthy, the former U.S. Surgeon General, I read at a recent Health Canada Opioid Symposium, “As challenging as this crisis may appear, we can overcome the opioid epidemic…if we remember that compassion is our most powerful weapon.”

*PrescribeIT™ is Canada’s only not-for-profit e-prescribing services.

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Tanya AchillesTanya Achilles is the Director, PrescribeIT® Medication Services. In this role she leads the development and implementation of the Canadian Clinical Drug Data Set to support PrescribeIT®, Canada’s national e-prescribing service. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy and a Master of Business Administration.

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