Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay hospital seeks public input on improving health system for opioid users

The Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre is seeking input from area residents on what can be done to better the region’s healthcare system for people who use opioids.

Doctor says users, their families and friends should ‘have a voice’ on the issue

Popular opioids include oxycodone, percocets, codeine, morphine, fentanyl as well as the street drug heroin. (Photo courtesy of Flickr)

The Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre is seeking input from area residents on what can be done to better the region's healthcare system for people who use opioids.

The 35-question online survey, a collaboration between the hospital and the North West Local Health Integration Network, is for "people who use opioids, caregivers, friends and family," and is "completely anonymous," said a tweet issued by the health sciences centre on April 29.

Dr. Peter Voros, the hospital's executive vice-president of in-patient programs, said the survey "is trying to help people [...] who have opioid use disorder have a voice in terms of what they need and in gaining access to services, whether they live in the city of Thunder Bay or in a regional municipality."

The centre's website says major opioids in use include oxycodone, percocets, codeine, morphine, fentanyl, "as well as the street drug heroin," among others.

Part of a bigger project

Voros said the survey is part of a longer-term project aimed a curbing the higher-than-average rates of opioid use and addiction in northwestern Ontario.

It began last year when the centre released its first survey to healthcare providers, to better understand what their prescribing habits are, how comfortable they are in dealing with opioid use disorder, and how aware they are of other types of pain management.

After the first survey was completed, Voros said his team "clearly understood that we needed to hear patients and families who use opioids."

They "should have a voice in all change in our healthcare system," he added.

To develop the survey, his team met with a focus group to understand some of the concerns patients have had with the healthcare system and then "took those concerns and developed them into questions."

Some of the questions suggest that patients and their families may want to see faster access to chronic pain management specialists close to home, easier access to opioid addiction medication, more information on how to administer naloxone, and more culturally appropriate services.

Past initiative has 'moved forward'

The hospital has done other fact-finding aimed at helping those with opioid addiction. In October 2018, it began a pilot project that would allow doctors to access "digital order sets" which recommend the best practices on prescribing opioids to patients.

Voros said that initiative "has moved forward," but hasn't yielded any results yet.

"We don't have data yet to know what the impact has been, and we haven't yet done any analysis to see," he explained.

Voros said the hospital doesn't plan to release any forthcoming surveys.

When the survey closes on May 31, the information will be examined by regional mental health and addictions groups, to help the hospital determine what actions it should take.