A new analysis shows northern Ontario has some of the highest rates of death in the province related to the abuse of prescription painkillers.

When the researchers looked at opioid-related deaths per population of 100,000 people, they found rates were highest in Thunder Bay, Sudbury, Manitoulin, Algoma and Nipissing regions.

Tara Gomes

Tara Gomes from the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto authored the study. She said the prevalence of more physical work in northern Ontario could mean more painkillers are prescribed and, ultimately, abused. (Sydney Helland/ICES)

Tara Gomes from the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute at St. Michael's Hospital authored the study.

With more physical labour in the north, painkillers may be prescribed more often, she noted.

“It's possible that they might be more likely to be exposed to opioids because they had an injury, went to a doctor, [and] received a prescription for an opioid,” Gomes said.

“What we know is that a lot of the time people who receive legitimate prescriptions for pain conditions end up becoming addicted to these products.”

Addicts find other options

The study looked at 20 years worth of coroner’s data, up until 2010. It found that one in eight deaths among people aged 25 to 34 is related to painkillers such as oxycodone and codeine.

Overdose Deaths

A new analysis shows northern Ontario has some of the highest rates of death in the province related to the abuse of prescription painkillers. (Toby Talbot/Associated Press)

In recent years, steps have been taken in Ontario to make the opioid Oxycontin harder to abuse.

Outreach workers in Sudbury say demand for the drug is down, but addicts have turned to abusing other prescription medications.

“We've seen a decrease in people [who] are even looking for Oxycontin because they have switched over to or hydromorph or fentynal patches,” said Cameron McTaggart, who is with Monarch Recovery Services in Sudbury.