A new report published today is calling for tighter regulations on physicians prescribing drugs, especially opioids like fentanyl or oxycontin — something it says will reduce the number of fatal overdoses and addiction cases in B.C.

More people in B.C. die from opioid overdoses than in car accidents involving alcohol and drugs every year, according to the report by the Urban Health Research Initiative and the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS.

Vancouver Coastal Health says more doctors need to use the prescription monitoring system, PharmaNet. The report says less than 30 per cent of doctors use the software, which keeps track of a patient's prescription history, helping doctors avoid dangerous drug interactions or over-prescribing.

"We have hundreds of people per year dying in this province from opioid overdoses from prescriptions that essentially, at the very front end, are coming from physicians," said Dr. Evan Wood, medical director of addiction services at Vancouver Coastal Health. "We need a whole system-wide shift to improve safety."

He says the practice of checking a patient's prescription history is already mandatory in Nova Scotia, something B.C. could implement too.


It only takes one minute for a doctor to look up a patient's prescription history using the software, according to Wood. He says it's an essential step in protecting the safety of patients.

"Before physicians [write] prescriptions for medication that has the potential to be lethal, they really need to have a full understanding of the patient sitting in front of them."

PharmaNet is available to all physicians and pharmacists in B.C., but Wood says many doctors choose not to pay the $8 monthly fee for the software.

"It's something that, I think, just needs a little bit of a nudge and people to really start working together to improve patient safety," said Wood.

Fatal mistakes

Checking a patient's prescription history can help prevent a multitude of problems, according to Wood. Problems include prescribing a drug that has a harmful interaction with another medication the patient is already taking, giving drugs to someone who is selling them on the street, or missing an undiagnosed case of untreated pain.

He says one symptom of this problem is the hundreds of overdose deaths every year in B.C.

"With the fentanyl problem, the issue with diverted prescription opioids making their way onto the street and creating a street-based market for opioids has gotten so bad that we now have organized crime groups creating counterfeit pills that are meant to look like an oxycontin."

To hear the full audio, click the link labelled: Addiction health practitioners call for mandatory use of prescription monitoring system.