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The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta Takes Action on the Prescription Opioid Abuse Issue

In recent years, the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse has been warning that the increased use of psychoactive prescription drugs, especially opioids for chronic pain management can cause devastating harms, such as addiction, overdose, and death. The harms associated with prescription opioids has emerged as one of the prime public health and safety concerns across North America. According to the International Narcotics Control Board ( INCB), Canada is the second largest per capita consumer of opiate pain relievers, while globally, North America consumes nearly 80% of the worlds' opioids. 

The NDP government recently acknowledged its concerns about the opioid abuse crisis plaguing the Canadian province of Alberta. The community crisis relates to prescription painkillers such as morphine, fentanyl, and oxycodone as well as street drugs such as heroin. The misuse of fentanyl alone has caused over 340 deaths since 2015. The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta (CPSA), the governing body for medical doctors in the province of Alberta has already taken action on this stringent and unprecedented community problem which is now a very serious public health crisis. 

The college's efforts to address the harms associated with the misuse of prescription opiate painkillers have focused on a multifaceted approach in the areas of prevention, treatment, education, monitoring, and surveillance in order to effectively reduce the opiate-related morbidity and mortality. CPSA now operates the triplicate prescription program aimed at collecting information about the dispersal of certain prescription narcotics, as well as provides counseling for physicians whose prescribing habits may cause harm to their patients.

Dr. Karen Mazurek, CPSA's deputy registrar said that a shortage of time, not being up to date in their knowledge and heavy workloads are among the factors that can affect whether a physician is improperly prescribing opiate pain relievers (OPRs). Over-prescribing of opiate painkillers has led to a sharp increase in the prevalence of opiate addiction which occurs in both medical and non-medical OPR users and has been associated with a rise in opiate overdose deaths and heroin use.

According to statistics compiled by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta, the number of opioid prescriptions rose by 26% over a 5-year period, from 376,912 prescriptions in 2010 to 512,502 prescriptions in 2014, alongside an alarmingly increasing number of overdoses from both legal and illegal opiates. The medical body is currently exploring a new standard of practice that requires doctors to take additional steps when exceeding the recommended OPR doses as well as ways to impact a doctor's prescribing habit before placing patients at risk.

CPSA now has an individual dashboard system in place that allows doctors to compare their prescribing practices to other healthcare providers within medical specialties and geographical areas. The system used by Alberta's governing body for doctors also allows tracking whether patients are visiting multiple physicians for prescriptions, as well as the prescribing frequency and amount of OPR prescribed.

Alberta Liberal Party Leader and physician David Swann emphasized the need for more oversight of opiate prescriptions, especially fentanyl while Associate Health Minister Brandy Payne expressed his concerns over the fact that Canada has some of the highest prescription drug rates in the world.

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