Seniors have the highest rate of hospitalization due to narcotics poisoning of all age groups in the N.W.T., says a newly-released government report.

Teens between 15 and 19 have the next highest rates.

Andre Corriveau

Dr. Andre Corriveau, N.W.T.'s chief public health officer, says the high rate of accidental narcotic poisoning among N.W.T.'s seniors is 'not drug abuse but maybe over-prescribing.' (CBC)

The study titled "Review of Non-intentional Poisonings by Narcotics," includes data collected between 2009 and 2014. This was the first time the territorial government has compiled this kind of data.

The data showed people aged 70 to 79 years visited Stanton Territorial Hospital's emergency room due to narcotics poisoning at a rate one and a half times that of teens. 

Seniors 80 years old and above were admitted to hospitals in N.W.T. for narcotics poisoning at a rate around 10 times higher than that of teens.

"The rate of hospitalization due to poisoning by narcotics and psychodysleptics increased with age," says the report.

Hospitalization rates in females were generally higher than males in all age groups, the report shows. Rates were also higher for the Aboriginal population versus the non-Aboriginal population.

Over-prescribing of drugs

Andre Corriveau, N.W.T.'s chief public health officer, says the high rate of narcotic poisonings among seniors is probably not due to substance abuse and addiction, like it is for teens.

"There was a peak in accidental deaths in the elderly, which we associate probably with accidental ingestion of prescribed medication," says Corriveau.

"It's not drug abuse but maybe over-prescribing."

He said seniors may have other prescribed medication which may cause "confusion."

But he says this is "more a hunch than hard facts" and that it's something the government will have to investigate more deeply.

"I think it's an important issue we need to look into," says Corriveau.

He said the report is not just for the public's awareness, but also to guide health care workers to focus on the issues it raises.

Monitoring and electronic records

There's a higher risk for seniors due to changes in how the body metabolizes narcotics with aging, says Daryl Dolynny, a pharmacist and former MLA.

hi-daryl-dolynny-mla

'Are our elderly at risk? Absolutely,' says pharmacist and former MLA Daryl Dolynny. (CBC)

Dolynny also says there's special concern for seniors in smaller communities in the N.W.T.

"Are our elderly at risk? Absolutely," he says.

"And if you're not monitoring the drug levels on a regular basis, which sometimes is a bit more difficult in smaller communities... this is where accidental poisoning and accidental overdosing can be a result of that."

Corriveau says the territory is in the advanced stages of implementing an electronic records system where a patient's medical records can be shared electronically throughout the territory.

"Whether you're being seen in Inuvik or in Yellowknife, it's the same information," says Corriveau.

"So we're going to work with physicians to make maximize use of [electronic records] to address some of those concerns."