As prescription drug abuse and addiction continues to be a growing problem that plagues states across the U.S.A., many state and local governments have taken steps to attempt to reduce the number of people suffering major health risks and even death as a result of dependence on pills like opiates. It seems that the U.S.'s neighbor to the north, Canada, is the most recent region to take a strong stand in the fight against prescription drug addiction.
Health Canada, the country's governing office on healthcare, has announced new rules that require controlled-release prescription narcotics to carry more stringent warning labels. The announcement that the department intended to include more strict warning labels came at the country's largest lobby of physicians.
Labeling Will Specify What Type of Pain Opiates Will Be Used For
Part of the new labeling process that Health Canada will oversee includes changing the language that is on prescription pills. Currently, labels for time release opiates indicate that the drugs may be taken for moderate to severe pain, but the new labels will remove the word moderate and specify that these drugs are to be used only the case of very extreme or "severe" pain.
Most doctors, pharmacists, and addiction counselors agree that drugs that are highly addictive and potentially dangerous should be used as a last option, and not as a default pain medicine. Many health professionals hope that making this distinction will help prevent patients from taking more medication than is absolutely necessary.
Prescription Drug Abuse a Problem in Canada as Well as the U.S.
The growing prescription pill abuse problem is not one that is unique to the United States. In Canada, as many as 410,000 citizens have reportedly abused painkillers like OxyContin, as well as stimulants like Adderall and anti-anxiety medications, which act as depressants such as Xanax.
Deaths related to opiates like OxyContin have soared by a whopping 242% in the last fifteen years. This horrifying epidemic has prompted pushes for ways to reduce the number of preventable deaths caused by prescription drug abuse.
One of the struggles that lawmakers and health officials face when attempting to address the problem of prescription drug abuse is how best to cut down on illicit use while still keeping the drugs available for patients who legitimately need them. Painkillers containing opiates are often prescribed by doctors for patients with acute short term pain, such as those who have suffered a major injury or undergone surgery.
Legitimate Need Can Still Lead to Addiction
One reason that addiction to prescription drugs has skyrocketed in the past decade may be that unlike other types of addictive drugs, a patient may inadvertently become addicted to prescription drugs after taking them for a legitimate reason. Drugs like OxyContin contain traces of the same elements as heroin, which makes them highly addictive.
This means that a patient could become addicted, even while taking a drug exactly as prescribed. This is why groups like Health Canada are attempting to make clear that the drugs carry serious risks and that a patient should be aware of the severity of these risks and discuss them with their doctor before filling a prescription for a potentially addictive drug.
By advising patients that they must be aware of how easily they can become addicted, medical professionals hope that patients will take non-opiate drugs like ibuprofen when that will sufficiently manage pain. Changing labels and recommended use for these drugs may also help to ensure that patients do not take these drugs without considering the potential for dependency and abuse.