Ontario To Stop Paying For Powerful Long-Lasting Opioids

By McCarton Ackerman 07/28/16

To combat the painkiller epidemic, Ontario will stop the sales of three very popular, high-strength opioid painkillers next year. 

Ontario To Stop Paying For Powerful Long-Lasting Opioids

Ontario is taking a stand on opioid addiction by becoming Canada's first province to stop paying for high doses of long-acting opioids.

The Hamilton Spectator reported that the country's Ministry of Health will remove high-dose painkillers from the Ontario Drug Benefit Formulary beginning in January 2017. The formulary covers the cost of drugs for province residents who are 65 or older, receive social assistance, live in a long-term care facility or have high drug costs in relation to their income.

Among the affected drugs are 75-microgram per hour and 100-microgram per hour patches of fentanyl, 24-milligram and 30-milligram capsules of hydromorphone and 200-milligram tablets of morphine. Although these drugs will still be available for purchase, patients will need to either use insurance to buy them or pay out of pocket.

Ontario’s Health Minister has publicly supported the initiative, calling it an “important first step” in reducing opioid overdose deaths. A recent study showed that Ontario inmates are 12 times more likely to die of an overdose than the general public during their first year released, with 77% of these deaths involving opioids.

Although removing these drugs from the formulary has been protested by some members of the palliative care community, which is generally associated with end-of-life and hospice care, doctors who need to prescribe higher doses in these cases can simply increase the number of pills their patients take, said Dr. David Juurlink of the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto.

Canada is also looking at other ways to address the country’s ongoing issues with opioids. In May, the Canadian government began taking steps to legalize prescription heroin. The proposed regulatory amendment would move heroin into a different federal drugs category that would allow it to be used as part of Canada's Special Access Programme (SAP). The program allows patients with serious or life-threatening conditions, who have not found success with conventional methods of treatment, to put in emergency requests for certain drugs.

Dr. Scott MacDonald, a physician with the Crosstown Clinic in Vancouver, said prescription heroin administration at the clinic costs $21,000. That’s compared to the $35,000 an unchecked addict may rack up in court costs, health care, crime and more.

In June, health officials in British Columbia also announced that as many as five supervised injection sites could soon be opened throughout the Vancouver area.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.

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