Dr. David Wong, left, Heather Mullen and Dr. Des Colohan, right, of the Medical Society of P.E.I. speak to the MLAs on the health and social development committee Tuesday about the growing rate of prescription drug addiction in P.E.I
The growing rate of prescription drug abuse and addiction in P.E.I. is being aggravated in part by doctors over-prescribing opiates, say the associations representing physicians and pharmacists in the province.
The Medical Society of P.E.I. and the P.E.I. Pharmacist’s Association appeared Tuesday before the provincial health and social development committee.
It has been examining the growing problem of opiate addiction in the province.
Dr. David Wong, a pediatrician who practices at the Prince County Hospital, said he has seen an increase in newborns with neonatal withdrawal syndrome – babies born to mothers addicted to opiates.
“Within 24 to 48 hours we would be dealing with a baby that is crying inconsolably, screaming and vomiting and cannot coordinate to feed from a bottle or nurse from the mother,” Wong said.
“We as pediatricians had to learn very quickly, ‘What do we do with that?’ Because we never dealt with that before.”
Both he and Dr. Des Colohan, a pain management specialist, told the committee there has been a movement in the medical community over the last few years to do more to treat chronic pain.
This has been positive for patients suffering with severe pain for extended periods.
But both doctors acknowledged some physicians, in P.E.I. and across the country, are over-prescribing opiates in their treatment of some of these conditions.
“There’s been a major push across North America in the pain community to stop under-treating chronic pain… (this) has translated into using more potent drugs, particularly the opiates,” Colohan said.
“It may very well be that pendulum has swung too far.”
Erin MacKenzie, executive director of the Pharmacist’s Association said she sees first hand many Islanders being given too many of these potent opiates through valid prescriptions.
“I have a patient that I have in mind right now who leaves the pharmacy with 720 hydromorphone 2-milligram tablets a month,” MacKenzie said.
“That certainly is not best practice.”
The pharmacists suggested government legislate that doctors must consult the Drug Information System before prescribing opioids. The DIS is already mandatory for pharmacists, but not doctors in P.E.I.
They also asked the MLAs to make it law that doctors have to specify what the drug is being prescribed for when writing an opiate prescription.
“That would help me as the pharmacist to provide better expert opinion on the appropriateness of that dosing, duration and therapy for that particular patient,” MacKenzie said.
Both the Medical Society and the Pharmacist’s Association brought up the often large volume of pills Islanders can get from some dentists for extractions.
MacKenzie suggested limits be put on the number of pain pills given out for certain types of conditions.
Both associations also stressed the need for more education – for physicians, children in schools and for the entire Island community about the risks and dangers of abusing these drugs.
Wong told the committee he believes this education should also be geared specifically to seniors. He says he has heard of some elderly Islanders who sell their pills to drug dealers who sit and wait at the doors of pharmacies, offering good money to emerging seniors, many of whom are struggling financially.
The committee is travelling New Brunswick on Thursday to tour the Portage youth addictions facility, where many P.E.I. teens receive treatment.
Meanwhile Health Minister Doug Currie says he will finally release the long-awaited mental health and addictions report and government’s plan to address what has been called an epidemic of drug addiction in P.E.I.
The report will be released Nov. 1st.