Ontario opioid restrictions bad for palliative patients, doctor says

Plans to remove funding for high-strength pain-killers could leave some end-of-life patients popping dozens of pills a day or paying out of pocket, according to Dr. Kathy Simpson.

Dr. Kathy Simpson wants high-strength pain-killers added to Ontario's special access list

Fentanyl is an opioid pain reliever that can be up to 100 times stronger than morphine. (Submitted by Charlottetown Police)

The palliative care lead for northwestern Ontario says the province needs to ensure palliative care patients still have access to high-strength opioids.

The government announced plans last week to stop funding the drugs through the Ontario Drug Benefit program because of troubling addiction rates.

That will leave some end-of-life patients paying out of pocket for drugs they really need — or taking mega-doses of weaker drugs to get the same effect, said Dr. Kathy Simpson.

That's just not workable, she added.

"Our patients suffer from a number of gastrointestinal problems such as nausea, early filling of their stomach, that kind of thing, so that the burden of taking five, eight, ten pills is very significant," she said.

The province should add high-strength opioids to the list of drugs covered by its special access program for palliative care patients, known as Palliative Care Facilitated Access, Simpson said.

The Canada Research Chair in Indigenous mental health and addictions echoed Simpson's concern that the policy not disrupt care for patients who truly need access to the drugs.

Dr. Christopher Mushquash also said it takes more than restricting access to drugs to solve addiction problems.

"There are a number of things that drive health phenomena," Mushquash said. "We know that things like poverty ... exposure to violence, adverse childhood experiences and so on tend to increase the likelihood that someone who encounters or begins using substances will develop a difficulty with that substance."

Initiatives to address mental health problems, poverty and housing shortages are all part of the solution to addiction, Mushquash added.