A Medical Student’s Perspective on the Opioid Crisis

We know there's a problem, but finding a single solution won't be an easy task

One of the highlights of my first year of medical school was attending the Canadian Federation of Medical Students’ Federal Lobby Day in Ottawa where we advocated for a national pharmacare program. I am looking forward to returning to Parliament Hill again this winter to advocate alongside my pan-Canadian medical school colleagues – this time regarding the opioid crisis. Over the past few months I have been a part of the committee tasked with researching the topic of our lobby day, and developing a specific ‘ask’ for which we will lobby the Federal government. After multiple conference calls, late night research sessions, and much debate, what’s clear is that the Canadian opioid crisis is multi-faceted and no single stand-alone solution will suffice.

In anticipation of the Federal Opioid Summit held on November 18-19, my colleagues (Vivian Tam & Julianna Deutscher) and I wrote an op-ed piece to reflect what we thought was lacking in the mainstream conversation surrounding the opioid epidemic.

Upstream published our piece on November 18th, and the original version can be found on their site, but here's a quick look at the piece:

Canadian Opioid Crisis Plan Must Address Social Causes

Canada lacks a system to track co-existing mental health conditions or co-ingestions in opioid-related fatalities, and our evidence base on opioid overdoses is disappointingly sparse.  As we seek to build upon it, we will need to do so with a view to the significant role that mental health and substance abuse can play in exacerbating opioid misuse.  

A call to the emergency room says the ambulance was en route. Joey*, a middle-aged oilfield worker, was experiencing a suspected toxic ingestion of fentanyl. Thankfully, he had been administered Narcan—the drug used to reverse opioid overdoses— and was conscious. When he arrived in the emergency department, he revealed that he had been having trouble coping with the recent dissolution of his marriage. Earlier that day he found out he’d been laid off from work. A friend had offered him what he thought was fentanyl; just this once, just to get him through the day. He couldn’t remember anything else up until his resuscitation in the ambulance.

A recent report by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA) and the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) found that 13 Canadians are hospitalized each day from an opioid overdose. In B.C. and Alberta, provinces particularly hard-hit by opioid addiction, the rate of fatal fentanyl overdoses increased tenfold between 2012 and 2015 alone. Saskatchewan, which also has the highest rate of new cases of HIV, a phenomenon closely connected to injection of drugs, also has the highest rate of hospitalization from opioid poisoning.

Read the full op-ed on the Upstream website.

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