Scientists at the Ontario Drug Policy Research Network have unveiled an interactive tool that shows opioid prescription rates across the province, enabling users to quickly evaluate the impact of programs designed to deal with the opioid crisis. It will add to the data collected by a tool developed by Public Health Ontario (PHO) that measures opioid-related harms across the province.
"The PHO tool has been really helpful for monitoring opioid outcomes," explains Dr. Tara Gomes, a scientist at the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute.
"However, we continue to receive requests related to how opioids are being prescribed, and whether they're being prescribed at high dosages. In particular, organizations are looking for up-to-date information in their regions to help guide the development of new programs that can respond to this crisis."
The new tool captures all opioids dispensed across Ontario that are used to treat pain, cough and addiction, using data gathered by the province's Narcotics Monitoring System and analyzed at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences. The information posted includes the number of people treated, the types of opioids dispensed, the degree of high dose prescribing, and accessibility to physicians who prescribe opioids to treat addiction.
Dr. Gomes is careful to point out the importance of contextualizing this information within the broader, shifting opioid environment, and not jumping to the conclusion that a drop in prescriptions is always desirable.
"We hope that attempts to promote appropriate opioid prescribing will ultimately lead to lower opioid prescribing rates," she says.
"But we don't want to see large reductions in opioid prescribing that could be suggestive of doctors cutting patients off from their pain medication. Instead, when reducing someone's dose is appropriate, we should aim for gradual, safe dose tapering."