Nova Scotia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons wants doctors to rethink how they treat pain and not just grab for the prescription pad.

A campaign is due to launch on Monday that will include billboards and bus advertising across the province to fight the abuse of prescription opioid drugs like Dilaudid.

"Prescription drugs aren't always the right tool for managing pain," is the message the college is trying to get out.

Dr. Gus Grant is the CEO of the college and says it’s about over-prescribing.

Cindy MacIsaac

Direction 180 executive director Cindy MacIsaac, welcomes the awareness campaign, but says the college could do more. (CBC)

"We may be in the dilemma whereby as a profession we're over-prescribing, but under-treating, pain," he said.

Tylenol 3, Dilaudid or hydromorphone are opioid drugs that are highly addictive. They are all commonly prescribed for chronic pain.

Grant hopes the campaign will create a dialogue between patients and their doctors on finding better solutions for pain. 

"To heighten awareness at the moment that counts: at the moment that the doctor and the patient sit down to have a conversation about how best to manage pain."

Grant says many conditions can be treated without the use of prescription drugs.

"If you presented with high blood pressure and came to my office, I hope I would talk to you about diet, exercise, salt restriction." he said.

"In the same way, the patient that presents with chronic pain, we should talk about all potential strategies to help with functioning and coping necessary to deal with the pain."

Between January and June of this year, opioid drugs have been part of the cause of 17 deaths in the province. Here are the figures for the last seven years of fatalities investigated by the Nova Scotia medical examiner, where the cause of death listed at least one opioid drug:

2014 17
2013 46
2012 64
2011 53
2010 47
2009 55
2008 42
2007 45

Direction 180, a methadone clinic in Halifax, has treated hundreds of opioid addicts since it opened in 2001.

The clinic’s executive director, Cindy MacIsaac, welcomes the awareness campaign, but says the college could do more. 

"I think we certainly need to move in that direction where the prescribing of opiates is monitored more closely," she said.

Addicted to legal drugs

MacIsaac says 100 per cent of their clients are addicted to prescription drugs, whether obtained illegally or legally. She would like to see better monitoring of prescriptions.

"We need to back up and say, 'OK, let's go upstream here, let's go downstream, let's see where the problem's really starting,'" she said.

"It's about supporting and putting in more guidelines for the prescribing of the opiates."

Right now, doctors have to get special training to prescribe methadone to treat opiate addicts.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons offers courses on how to prescribe painkillers, but those are optional.