Joint conference of doctors and nurses hears discussions about growing number of Islanders addicted to prescription pills
© Guardian photo by Heather Taweel
Dr. Des Colohan stands in front of a crowd of doctors and nurses who attended Tuesday’s joint conference of the Medical Society of P.E.I. and the Association of Registered Nurses.
CORNWALL — The growing number of Islanders becoming addicted to prescription drugs in P.E.I. was the topic of heated debate among physicians at a conference Tuesday in Cornwall.
The Medical Society of P.E.I. and the Association of Registered Nurses held a joint conference Tuesday called Addictions Unplugged — dispelling myths, facing facts and moving forward in addictions training on P.E.I.
During one of the sessions, Dr. Des Colohan, a physician who specializes in pain management in P.E.I., cited data suggesting abuse of opiates and other drugs is not getting worse nationally or provincially.
“I suspect the sense is that addictions is becoming a more common problem, and I’m not saying it is or it isn’t, I’m just challenging whether we know enough to say that it actually is.”
But a number of physicians attending his session took issue with this.
Dr. Gordie Beck, who has been an emergency room doctor for 15 years, said he is definitely seeing more patients than ever suffering from severe and debilitating addiction to prescription opiates.
“There is a true sense that this is an escalating issue that is causing massive problems throughout the entire health system and that’s why we’re all here today addressing this.”
He pointed to the turnout for the conference, which saw more than 200 doctors and nurses in attendance.
The parking lot at the Dutch Inn in Cornwall was so full, people parked in an adjacent field and had to be towed out after a downpour led to cars getting stuck in the mud.
Beck and several other doctors in the room said they do not believe the statistics tell the real story.
“I have never experienced a group of physicians of this volume with this amount of concern about an issue that faces us
every day in our practice,” Beck said.
“The concern that it raises and the amount of discussion that is engendered from this problem is a truer reflection of the actual volume of any statistics that are thrown up on a screen.”
"I suspect the sense is that addictions is becoming a more common problem, and I’m not saying it is or it isn’t, I’m just challenging whether we know enough to say that it actually is." Dr. Des Colohan
Colohan said he presented the numbers on purpose to be provocative and to generate debate.
But he was not the only professional who provided statistics on opiate addiction.
The RCMP gave a closed-door session to Island doctors Tuesday about the growing problem of prescription pill abuse in P.E.I.
“About 75 per cent of our work in drug enforcement right now is with prescription drugs, so that’s really our focus … it’s our
problem right now,” said Cpl. Andy Cook.
He said he hopes the health professionals attending the conference will recognize that opiate abuse and addiction in P.E.I. is a serious issue and one that needs a multi-pronged approach.
Dr. Don Ling, head of the province’s methadone program, said there is no question in his mind that opiate addiction in P.E.I. has grown dramatically over the last few years.
He hopes the debate at the conference Tuesday will inspire more physicians in P.E.I. to treat addicted patients.
Currently only 10 doctors in the province administer methadone, while more than 200 people are on the waiting list for the methadone program.
“I would like to see 20 to 25 family doctors accept the role with a few patients of their own,” Ling said.
“If we could do that we could have 100 patients out there eventually being looked after by those doctors, who would have four or five each in their practice. That would be a wonderful help.”
This would be a decision for each individual physician to make, but would only require minimal training, Ling said.
“Methadone treatment does work for the motivated and committed patient. It works very well, actually.”‘