The prescription drug abuse crisis

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Somehow we have lost our way when it comes to health care and prescription drugs.

Many of us know someone addicted to prescription opiate drugs like fentanyl or hydromorphone. A survey done in 2012 indicated that 410,000 Canadians abused prescription drugs like opioid painkillers. Ontario alone had 2471 opioid-related overdoses between 2011-2014. Things have not been getting better over the past few years and, as a matter of fact, they have worsened to a great degree.

As many as 30% of those people addicted to opiate painkillers got hooked on legal prescriptions for pain relief. There are all kinds of narcotic painkillers on the market. people believe the commonly prescribed oxycodone is the lesser of two evils because it is often combined with Tylenol or ibuprofen. In fact, Percocet, Tylox, Percodan and OxyContin all contain oxycodone. I know many people who were offered one of these painkillers as prescriptions from doctors or dentists. Some people had enough information beforehand to refuse these drugs, but many assumed that if they were prescribed by a doctor they must be just fine to ingest. I have also known many people who started this way and ended up tragically addicted and had their lives turned upside down. In the worst case scenarios, people died.

You might wonder why medical professionals prescribe these addictive painkillers so freely. Good question. Often, these prescription painkillers end up on the street and are sold for big profits. Some of the abuse by clients is expressly for resale on the black market. There is a big demand for these drugs as young people looking for a high get addicted to them and then are stuck in a world that spins out of control. They become helpless and unless they get help and treatment their lives are critically damaged.

The huge pharmaceutical companies that produce these opiates spend millions promoting them, while encouraging medical professionals to prescribe their products. They also have armies of lobbyists to pressure government authorities. The result is that these prescriptions are provided too easily. Once people are addicted to these drugs they can stay on them for a very long time and if they get cut off, they tend to turn to the street and pay large sums to feed their addiction. Many end up turning to heroin and similar drugs if they can’t access their prescription drugs.

The drug companies are making billions selling these painkillers and their popularity has soared over the past 20 years. There were almost 22 million opioid prescriptions in Canada in 2016. The current crisis is even worse with the popularity of fentanyl. Once addicted, many turned to the black market. This drug is killing people across Canada.

This problem of prescription drugs is even more tragic in First Nations. Once people are addicted they will do anything to get their fix so they sell everything they have and spend all their time trying to figure out how to get enough money to buy more drugs. People lose jobs, don’t take care of their children, get sick, commit suicide or overdose on the black market opiates.

Part of the problem stems from these drugs being too easy to get from a healthcare provider. Once people, who are already predisposed to addictions because of all kinds of historical abuse, are prescribed an opiate painkiller they are doomed. That is a major reason that the prescription drug epidemic on First Nations is so critical and becoming worse.

Fentanyl is the straw that broke the camels back as the new synthetic type from China is killing so many people. I know that the current federal government is working on some solutions and I understand that our First Nation leadership is involved in trying to remedy this epidemic. They are up against that age-old problem as big drug companies continue to market, promote and sell billions of dollars worth of prescription painkillers and that is undermining the good intentions of our leaders. We need to do something about that.

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