Opioid-Related Deaths Continue to Rise in Canada

Opioid-Related Deaths Continue to Rise in Canada

Opioids and the long-acting oxycodone appears to be a popular choice in Ontario, Canada. According to a new study in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal) and a release in Science Daily, deaths from opioids in Ontario have doubled since 1991 and the addition of oxycodone has resulted in a five-fold increase in oxycodone-related deaths.

Among the most commonly prescribed medications in Canada, opioids are often used for patients with chronic non-malignant pain. This study suggests that the increases in opioids prescriptions are a significant factor in accidental opioid-related deaths.

To complete this study, researchers examined data from 1991 to 2007 from IMS Health Canada and deaths attributed to opioids use from records of the Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario between 1991 and 2004.

Opioid pain medication prescriptions increased by 29 percent, with codeine being the most frequently prescribed. Interestingly, the number of prescriptions for that drug declined during the study period. There was also a 850 percent increase in ocycodone prescriptions, which accounted for 32 percent of the almost 7.2 million prescriptions for opioids dispensed in 2006.

In the years between 1991 and 2004, 7,099 deaths with complete records were attributed to alcohol and/or drugs. In 3,406 of these deaths, or 61.9 percent, opioids were implicated as the cause of death.

"The rise in opioid-related deaths was due in large part to inadvertent toxicity," wrote Dr. Irfan Dhalla, of the University of Toronto and coauthors. "There was no significant increase in the number of deaths from suicide involving opioids over the study period."

Once the coroner’s data was linked to health care databases, the researchers included 3,066 deaths. As many as 66.4 percent of these patients have seen a physician at least one in the four weeks preceding their death and received a diagnosis of mental health problems and pain-related complaints were among the most common reasons for medical attention.

"The societal burden of opioid-related mortality and morbidity in Canada is substantial," write the authors. "In our study, the annual incidence of opioid-related deaths in 2004 (27.2 million) falls between the incidence of death from HIV infection (12 per million) and sepsis (40 per million)."

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