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Prescription Drug Addiction in Canada

What do you mean by prescription drugs?

The overwhelming majority of prescribed medicines do not turn into addictions, and more often than not a prescribed drug doesn’t make us high or offer us any sort of “buzz” that would encourage us to keep taking it after our affliction has been treated. In some cases though, particularly when opioid medications are prescribed, many of us fall victim to the pleasant feelings and addictive chemical compounds that make up the drug. Oxycontin, dilaudid, morphine and fentanyl are just some of the often prescribed pain-killers that so many Canadians continue to use, and often abuse, long after their illness, surgery or injury has passed.

Aren't there warnings on the label? Don't doctors warn their patients?

Yes to both questions, but due to doctors being busy and labels often going ignored, it can be very difficult to adequately warn those who are prescribed addictive medications. It’s also not their faults they become addicted, it’s chemicals interacting with chemicals within our bodies and brains, and pleasure responses deep within our brains as well. How can a doctor possibly explain all this to a patient in extreme pain? Surely a miniature warning on a tiny bottle won’t do much good either, and therein lies the problem. Folks need these drugs to recover, more often than not, and are unfortunately vulnerable to becoming addicted, and there isn’t anyone in particular to really point the finger at. Yes some doctors are “pill pushers” or simply don’t care enough to express their concern when prescribing, and opioid medicines are indeed overprescribed, but it’s a problem with far too many factors to offload a lion’s share of the blame onto just one party.

What does the Canadian government have to say?

From the Government of Canada’s official site:

“Prescription drug abuse is a serious public health and safety issue that impacts individuals, families and communities across Canada. The Honourable Rona Ambrose, Minister of Health and the Honourable Steven Blaney, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, are encouraging all Canadians to participate in National Prescription Drug Drop-Off Day on Saturday, May 9, which will be coordinated by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police in communities across Canada.”

Quick Facts

  • Through Economic Action Plan 2014, the Government of Canada has committed more than $44 million over five years to expand the scope of the National Anti-Drug Strategy to include measures to address prescription drug abuse.
  • In 2013, 22% of Canadians aged 15 and older reported using a psychoactive prescription drug. Of these, 2% (about 146,000) reported abusing the drug for non-medical purposes.
  • According to a 2013 Ontario survey, one in eight youth reported using a prescription opioid drug for non-medical purposes, and approximately 70% said they obtained the drug from home.
  • Nationally, 42% of Canadian police agencies actively participated in the 2014 Prescription Drug Drop-Off Day.
  • Participating agencies reported recovering over 1.5 tons of prescription drugs in the 2014 Drop-Off Day.
  • 47,000 Canadian deaths are linked to substance abuse annually. — Health Officer's Council of British Columbia
  • 23% of Ontario students report that they were offered, sold, or given a drug at school in the last year. That's about 219,000 students.
  • 42% of Ontario students surveyed have used an illicit substance in the last year.
  • 83% of Ontario students in grade 12 drink alcohol. 49% of gr. 12 students admit to binge drinking.
  • The top four substances used by Ontario students: 58% alcohol; Cannabis (marijuana) 25%; Non-prescribed use of prescription pain relievers such as codeine, Percocet, Percodan, Demerol, or Tylenol
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National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers International Security for Traumatic Stress Studies The Canadian Positive Psychology Association The Association for Addiction Professionals