In March of 2011 I was asked by several Valley citizens to become involved with taking action on the prescription drug issue. There were parents, grandparents, sisters and brothers who had been impacted by the problem; one that had already claimed 14 lives in the Valley during 2010 alone. In addition it was destroying the potential of our youth and young adults and often leading to the disintegration of families. I have always believed in the power of positive change and transformation of lives. As an educator I know people living in our midst, who with help, made changes that resulted in productive and meaningful lives. Political action and sound public policy can be implemented and achieve strong results. Along with the pain I felt in the lives affected by this epidemic, the NDP’s failure to act for over a year on Police Chief Mander’s letter that described an emerging crisis propelled me to act.
After taking the issue to the Nova Scotia Legislature and holding six public meetings in the province I know that the Rx issue must be attacked on many fronts. As I have said on several occasions; “Why can’t Nova Scotia be a leader in dramatically influencing the proper use of prescription opioids and dramatically reducing the misuse?” In fact we should take a lead role in contributing to a national strategy on the prescription drug epidemic. Collectively we can make significant strides in the coming months and years.
Big Pharma with companies like Purdue Pharma are a major cause of the problem but I do not expect them to be part of a needed change. Some may point to Purdue Pharma as doing better with replacing Oxycontin with Oxyneo, a hard-shelled pill that makes it more difficult to abuse, but that’s more about extending a patent for another 15 years than looking after our wellbeing. This is the company that has had three leading officials, including their scientific advisor prosecuted and fined $700 million for false advertising about Oxycontin and its addictiveness. They are relentless in pushing opioids and operate like NS Power-the shareholder is first and foremost.
So, what are some of the changes we need to make? I think we must start with adopting the British Pain Society protocols for pain treatment. Maybe we should be developing a “made in Nova Scotia solution” with criteria that moves through prescribing other pharmaceuticals like non-addictive Lyrica before ever starting the highly addictive opioids. There are also many alternative medicine treatments that should be advanced before the prescription pad comes out. When conventional medicine works hand in hand with physiotherapy, acupuncture,massage therapy, osteopaths, chiropractors, massage therapy and others, there are amazing results. The time for wider MSI coverage for alternative medicine is long overdue.
Change must come in our medical schools where education and training for pain treatment has been deficient. In fact, a review of 20 Canadian Medical Schools had its findings reduced to one shocking statement-Veterinarians receive on the average, 5 times more training than doctors in how to discern and manage pain. After a meeting with Dr. Tom Merrie, the Dean of Dalhousie Medical School I am confident that change will be coming as early as this year’s curriculum offerings. In the absence of pain management instruction at medical school, Big Pharma have pushed their way forward with samples in hand and perks for the preachers of more prescribing.
This leads directly to another area that needs to change and that is at our pain clinics across the province-especially those receiving funding from companies like Purdue Pharma. Do people need to receive the expertise of practitioners at a pain clinic…absolutely. Should Purdue opiate products like Dilaudid be at the top of the treatment list…absolutley not. But when annual grants are given by Big Pharma the results are predictable.
In my next article on the prescription drug issue I will outline areas in education, treatment programs, policing, alternatives to methadone and monitoring private pain and methadone clinics like Mud Creek that must be part of the solution. As we move the yardsticks down the field of building a Valley community with less prescription drug problems. I know we can collectively make the necessary changes. Having worked closely with Amy Graves on this issue. I want to wish her every success on her return to college-she has been and will continue to be a game changer