Over the past three years, Canada and the United States have watched their respective opioid crises continue to deepen. Despite initiatives to curb illicit opioid use and reduce opioid-related health incidents, the numbers have continued to rise across North America.
Canada has the second-highest number of prescriptions in the world, following only the United States. This fact has led some to wonder if opioids are overprescribed in Canada.
Swapping Opioids for Cannabis
Among those who argue opioids are overprescribed in Canada, advocacy for medical cannabis has been growing. Cannabis is seen as a potential alternative treatment, which could help move people away from opioid medications.
There’s evidence for this. Some patients have reported being able to drastically reduce or eliminate their dependence on opioid medications when using this alternative treatment. Others have pointed to the growing number of people using medicinal marijuana in Canada, as well as the number of medical professionals embracing it.
This leaves the question of how the opioid crisis got started. Many people want to place the blame at the feet of medical professionals and pharmaceutical companies for overprescribing.
The Rising Number of Prescriptions
There’s been a clear upward trajectory in the number of opioid prescriptions in Canada over the past two decades. Annual opioid prescriptions now exceed 20 million, one for more than half of the entire Canadian population. Some estimates suggest one in every three Canadian adults is taking opioid medications.
These are massive numbers, which speaks to the growing epidemic of chronic pain and other conditions. It also illuminates one potential source of the opioid crisis in Canada.
The Most Effective Treatment?
Some people suggest the number of prescriptions has reached such heights because of increasing diagnoses of chronic conditions such as pain. They also suggest opioid medications are among the most effective treatments, which is why medical professionals automatically turn to them.
Others suggest the pharmaceutical industry has played a larger role in influencing physicians’ reliance on opioids as the treatment of choice for patients. Some suggest pharmaceutical industry players offered financial incentives to doctors and other professionals.
This, they say, fuelled the meteoric rise of opioids and accelerated the number of prescriptions being written.
Opinions Changing, But Is It Too Late?
Opioids have long been known to be highly addictive, but physicians and other medical professionals prescribed them to Canadians at alarming and increasing rates over the last 20 years.
Now, however, some physicians are turning away from opioids. The number of prescriptions has actually started to fall, which seems like good news at first glance.
Unfortunately, many doctors are merely cutting off their patients, rather than offering alternatives such as cannabis. These patients, unable to get more of the medication they’re now addicted to, seek out other sources. Sometimes, they obtain additional prescriptions from other medical professionals. In many cases, they turn to the black market trade.
Experts point to this latter option as the true reason for the opioid crisis. As people have turned to the street to find their medication, they’ve unknowingly purchased potent opioid medications like fentanyl and carfentanyl.
What’s the Answer?
As the opioid crisis proves, simply reducing the number of prescriptions and cutting off patients is not the right answer. While it’s good that the number of opioid prescriptions in Canada has started to fall, more must be done to support those who are already dependent on these substances.
Medical cannabis could be one potential way of supporting these patients as they transition away from opioid medications. Cannabis appears to be both effective and safer than opioids. For many, it seems to be the cure for the overprescription of opioid medications in Canada.