Ontario Drug Policy Research Network – Final Report July 2015

Over the past two decades there has been growing concern about the use of opioids to treat chronic non-cancer pain (CNCP). Studies conducted in Ontario and elsewhere have demonstrated that rates of opioid prescribing in general – and high dose opioid prescribing in particular – are on the rise. Furthermore, the rising prevalence of abuse, misuse and addiction related to opioids has driven concerns regarding accidental opioid overdoses that may lead to hospitalization for toxicity, and sometimes death. Indeed, in a recent analysis of opioid-related deaths abstracted from the Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario, we found that rates of opioid overdose deaths increased 242% between 1991 and 2010.4 By 2010, there were 550 deaths related to opioid overdoses in Ontario, many of them in young people, representing a major impact on public health.

In 2012, the Ontario Drug Policy Research Network (ODPRN) released a report summarizing rates of opioid prescribing and opioid overdose deaths in Ontario by county between 2004 and 2006. This study documented considerable variation in the rate of opioid prescribing and overdose death among Ontario’s counties, with regions such as Thunder Bay District and the Regional Municipality of Sudbury demonstrating high rates of both opioid prescription and opioid-related death. In 2014, a new map was released by the ODPRN reporting opioid-related death rates between 2006 and 2010, by county in Ontario. This analysis found similar trends to those reported in our earlier analysis. More recently, we have been asked to update our analyses to reflect the current patterns of opioid use and abuse in Ontario’s counties. Because we are currently unable to analyze opioid-related death data beyond 2010, we have instead conducted an analysis of opioid prescribing rates and rates of hospitalizations and emergency department visits related to opioid toxicity in Ontario, by county between 2006 and 2013.

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