As 2016 came to a close, the Ontario government announced a new strategy aimed at reducing the number of opioid addictions occurring within the province. Earlier in the year, many health experts and Ontario citizens came together to urge the Province – and the Federal government – to take action against a growing concern: the use of opioids. Jane Philpott, Health Minister for the Government of Canada, had already indicated that opioid use was a public-health crisis, which provided further validation for the strategy’s development. This comment, along with the public outcry, was the result of the over 700 opioid-related deaths that occurred in Ontario in 2015, alone.
Consultations for the Ontario Opioid Strategy stemmed from the recommendations presented by the Methadone Treatment and Services Advisory Committee, which included discussions with family members, caregivers, academics, and healthcare providers. It also considered the suggestions and stories of recovering opioid addicts.
Definition and symptoms/effects of its use
Opioid addiction is a dependence of opioid substances such as codeine, heroin, morphine and oxycodone. It is considered to be one of the easiest drugs to become addicted to, as it is often difficult to realize that one has become addicted. This is because the side effects of these types of drugs lead to a sense of improved well-being or livelihood, even though it may be false.
The short-term effects of opioid use include pain relief, a feeling of euphoria, drowsiness and sedation. The sense of euphoria is caused by the release of dopamine in the brain, which in the sense of addiction, reinforces the continuation of taking the drug. The relief of pain is also a factor, but this mixed with the former, are the basic foundation of the addiction.
The long-term effects of using opioids are quite extensive, and range in severity. Several of these effects include: bloating, constipation, nausea and vomiting, paranoia, and lethargy, but can also potentially lead to liver and/or brain damage, tolerance of the dosage, and of course, dependence.
Traditionally methadone was used to treat those addicted to opioids. However, this led to the formation of new addictions, rather than curing the patient altogether.
The Suboxone solution
Since methadone has proven to lead to additional dependencies, the addition of Suboxone has been included as one of the components of the new strategy. Experts believe this is a safer treatment than methadone, citing reduced instances or likelihood of overdose. British Columbia has already successfully implemented the use of Suboxone to its treatment plan, starting over a year ago.
The downside to using Suboxone, however, is that it is expensive; especially in comparison to other treatments such as methadone. On the other hand, methadone requires an authorized administrator in order to be prescribed, which Suboxone does not. This requirement for certified administration has left rural residents, in particular, with limited treatment options, as many of these administrators are found infrequently in these areas.
In addition to prescribing Suboxone, the province of Ontario aims to open 17 pain clinics (at a cost of $17 million per year), which will be more accessible to addicts throughout the province. It will also provide a number of treatment and therapy options, in addition to prescriptions, as these can lead to newer addictions. So, while the latest strategy may not be the perfect solution, it is, at least, a step in the right direction.