Prescription Opiates a Big Problem on Canadian Streets

In most Canadian cities, drug addicts are more likely to be hooked on prescription medications than on common street drugs such as heroin or cocaine.

That's what researchers with Simon Fraser University in Vancouver have reported in a study that was published in The Canadian Journal of Public Health.

Excepting Montreal and Vancouver, the researchers found that most street level drug users were abusing prescription opiates, and they estimate that the total number of prescription opiate addicts in Canada ranges from 321,000 to 914,000.

Between 30 percent and 40 percent of fatal drug overdoses in Canada each year are caused by prescription opiates. "It is a rather new and surprising phenomenon that it's actually prescribed substances, medical substances that are contributing to a lot of these deaths," said Professor Benedikt Fischer, a co-author of the study.

Prof. Fischer noted that doctors may be over-prescribing opiates for minor pain issues, such as toothaches, which increases the likelihood that more people will abuse the medications.

Recommendations from the study's authors include setting up a more comprehensive prescription drug monitoring network, educating doctors and pharmacists about the problem, curtailing the activities of internet pharmacies, and lowering the numbers of inappropriate prescriptions for opiate medications.

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