The Ontario government is trying to fight the growing problem of painkiller abuse with new legislation that will require patients to show doctors and pharmacists their personal identification to get narcotics.

The Narcotics Safety and Awareness Act goes into effect Nov. 1 and is supposed to help keep track of drugs like oxycontin.

mi-sarah-eckler-300

Thunder Bay physician Sarah Eckler (Nicole Ireland)

Physicians are struggling with how to handle the growing opioid addiction rates.

"So if you give the prescription for the opioids, you're worried about your prescription being sold on the street," said Dr. Sarah Eckler, a Thunder Bay family physician.

"If you don't give the opioid, you worry that you're not treating your patient's pain and your patient thinks you don't believe them."

Thunder Bay defence lawyer David Bruzzese said he sees many clients addicted to opioids like oxycontin.

"It's haunting," he said.

"The withdrawal that they’re going through is unlike any other narcotic I've seen."

Because people resort to crime to get the drug, sometimes that withdrawal happens in jail.

"Their need is so great … that they will commit desperate acts — like holding up drugstores with syringes. [These are] things that we never saw in this community 10 years ago."

mi-david-bruzzese-300

Thunder Bay lawyer David Bruzzese. (Nicole Ireland)

'Difficult to know what the right thing to do is'

Bruzzese and Eckler talked to approximately 50 people on Oct. 26 about the ethical challenges of opioid use for pain management. They were part of a panel organized by Lakehead University's Centre for Health Care Ethics. 

Eckler said many of her patients can't afford alternatives to pain medication, such as physiotherapy or massage therapy.

And there's a one-year waiting list to see a pain specialist in Thunder Bay. 

"Many of my patients have chronic pain problems, many have addiction problems and many have both chronic pain and an addiction," she said.  "And in that context, it's often difficult to know what the right thing to do is."

With files from Nicole Ireland