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Deaths related to narcotic pain relievers have doubled since 1991: Study
Date:12/7/2009

TORONTO, December 7, 2009 - Deaths from opioid use in Ontario have doubledfrom 13.7 deaths per million residents in 1991 to 27.2 deaths per million residents in 2004according to a new study led by physicians at St. Michael's Hospital and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) in Toronto.

Researchers also found that the addition of a long-acting form of oxycodone (OxyContin) to the province's drug formulary in January 2000 corresponded with a five-fold increase in oxycodone-related deaths.

"Many doctors are aware that prescription opioids can have fatal side effects by depressing breathing and decreasing level of consciousness," explains lead author Dr. Irfan Dhalla, a physician at St. Michael's Hospital. "But we suspect most will be surprised to learn just how many deaths occur each year in Ontario from prescription opioids."

Opioids, also known as narcotic pain relievers, are among the most commonly prescribed medications in Canada. They are used to treat people with moderate-to-severe acute or chronic pain.

The researchers manually reviewed nearly 7,100 files at the Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario. They then linked these files with provincial data on physician visits and medication prescribing. They also analyzed data from IMS Health Canadaan organization that tracks the sales of prescription drugs.

Here are the researchers' key findings:

  • Prescriptions for oxycodone rose by more than 850 per cent during the study period. This increase was much larger than for any other opioid. Oxycodone accounted for about one-third of the almost 7.2 million prescriptions for opioids dispensed in Ontario in 2006.

  • The increase in deaths was especially pronounced after OxyContin was added to the provincial drug benefit plan in 2000. Over the next five years, deaths related to any opioid increased by 41 per cent, and the number of deaths related to oxycodone (the active
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Contact: Julie Saccone
sacconej@smh.toronto.on.ca
416-864-5047
St. Michael's Hospital
Source:Eurekalert

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