A scientist with the Ontario Drug Policy Research Network is urging people in Thunder Bay to become more aware of the dangers around high-dose prescription painkillers.

Tara Gomes is a researcher at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, and a member of the research network. 

She said a new study by the network shows Ontario dispenses more high-dose oxycodone and fentanyl than any other province.

She said the report found there are about 756 oxycodone tablets and 112 fentanyl patches per 1000 people.

"More people could be exposed to these drugs either by purchasing them for use recreationally, or by sharing them with friends and family members, and it just increases the risk of people being exposed to these high-doses and ultimately to death from overdoses," she said.

Oxycodone

More high-dose oxycodone is prescribed in Ontario, than any other province, says a new study by the Ontario Drug Policy Research Network. (CBC)

High overdose death rate in Thunder Bay 

Gomes said these numbers should be of particular interest to people in Thunder Bay, because the city and surrounding area also has the highest overdose rate in Ontario, with 13.9 deaths per 100,000 people.

"I think that it really does suggest there may be a particular issue in Thunder Bay around the use of these drugs, and around overdosing and some of the safety concerns of these products.

"So I would hope that the message for prescribers would be to really think carefully about starting people on these drugs, and to really have a plan for discontinuing use so addressing an acute pain condition, and then having other treatment options for patients so they don't become chronic long-term users of these products," said Gomes.

Use with 'extreme caution'

Gomes says these drugs do have their place in treating people who are in extreme pain, but she says, in all cases, they should always come with plenty of warnings.

"I think that a better appreciation of being cautious around the use of them, and being cautious when escalating doses, and absolutely not sharing these drugs, even if you think you're doing it to help them. Really being careful and understanding that these are dangerous products that really should be used with extreme caution."

Gomes said sharing painkillers, especially high-dose opiates, can lead to tragedy.

"Over time your dose has escalated, and its managing your pain, and your friend or family member hurts their knee, and you say 'Well, this really works for me. Here just take one of mine, and see if it works for you.' What a patient might not realize is that one tablet they're taking that treats their pain, because they've developed a tolerance, they can handle it in their body, but their friend who's never taken one of these products before could just take one pill and it could lead to an overdose if they've never taken an opiod before."

The study's findings were published in the September issue of the Canadian Family Physician medical journal.