The growing problem of prescription drug abuse was highlighted at the 2013 Provincial Drug Strategy Conference, which was hosted by the Swift Current & District Drug Task Force on May 8 and 9.
Manitoba addictions expert Dr. Lindy Lee was a keynote speaker on the first day of the conference. Her presentation “Addictions by Prescription” highlighted her experience with opiates and opioids addiction in Winnipeg.
“We were deluded that they were far more helpful in chronic pain than they really are and more and more evidence are coming out that we have to be far more cautious,” she said. “They make some people feel very, very good when they start taking them and that could lead to disaster.”
She mentioned the death rate from abuse or addiction to these drugs is much higher than with other addictions.
“There are more deaths now from prescription pain killers than from smoking and heroin combined,” she said. “There are more deaths from prescription pain killers than from motor vehicle accidents and drunk driving.”
The extent of opioid use has increased across North America. Opioids are now more popular than marijuana in the United States as a fun drug to experiment with and prescription opioids is a bigger problem than heroine in British Columbia.
“Many people who would never go to a shady street and try to buy some heroine will try a pill if it’s offered to them,” she said. “My son was offered some on a public beach on a beautiful Sunday afternoon or they’ll get a prescription from their doctor.”
In 2005, she saw about 10 people with opiate problems at the addiction unit where she worked, but that number grew to 300 people in 2009.
“We all have our own pictures of what we think an addict looks like ... but what came into my door in Winnipeg was really nice, middle class adults,” she said. “They had lovely families, they had good education, they often had nice jobs before they lost them.”
The second wave of the addiction problem in Winnipeg was even more devastating, as it involved poor inner city families who often shared needles to inject morphine-based drugs that also resulted in higher rates of Hepatitis C and HIV infection.
Lee said there is a need for more careful prescribing of these drugs and increased public education, especially in schools.
“We really have to change public attitudes about locking up their medications, storing it and keeping it away from young people, returning stuff to pharmacists for disposal,” she noted. “We have to talk to our kids.”
Conference participants received a glimpse into the extent of prescription drug abuse in Swift Current during a session that involved RCMP Const. Lindsay Wudrick and a man who is recovering from his own prescription drug abuse.
They spoke about what they have seen on the streets of Swift Current.
“You guys got a big problem in this town and it’s getting worse,” the man said.
Wudrick said there are several houses around the city where young people are introduced to prescription drugs by people who are also addicted to it.
“Some of these kids aren’t just down-and-out kids from beat-up families,” he said. “There’s that group too, but you have kids from so-called normal, middle-class families that are hanging out at these places.”
The man added the use of these drugs will have a dramatic effect on someone’s behaviour.
“It totally warps the way you think, you’re not the same person at all,” he said. “It’s hard to tell if your kids are doing it or not unless there’s prolong use. Then you can tell by their behaviour but by that time they’re gone by their shorthairs because it’s an awful addiction to kick.”
According to Wudrick, there is a growing concern among local physicians and pharmacists about prescription drug abuse.
The Swift Current & District Drug Task Force organized a meeting on Wednesday evening, May 8, with local pharmacists and physicians. It was attended by Dr. Lee and the conference representatives of the Saskatchewan College of Pharmacists and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan.
“For a year we were trying to plan and to organize a meeting like that, but because we had the people in town it kind of attracted the people to come to that event,” Wudrick said. “It was a very open, good discussion on the issue.”
Various other substance abuse issues and potential solutions were addressed at the conference.
La Ronge youth addiction counsellor Mark Romanow spoke about the 180 Program.
Swift Current social worker Ralph Aman, who is the clinical supervisor for adult mental health at Cypress Health Region, talked about anxiety and substance abuse.
Cpl. Rene Leclair of the Regina Police Services gave an overview of drug impaired drivers andthe observable effects of drug impairment. A presentation by Kim Sutherland, the founder of Street Culture Kidz Project, highlighted street culture.
Rand Teed, the developer of the Drug Class classroom program, was the keynote speaker on the second day of the conference. He spoke about how substance abuse will impact adolescent development.
He said it is no use to simply tell youth to do something different.
“What we have to do is help them get to the point where they’re going to say ‘I need to do something different’ and then we can help them figure out what that is,” he explained.
His message to parents was that they can have a really positive influence over their teenage children if they are able to listen.
“Lots of parents don’t know how to do that,” he said. “As soon as their kids start to talk to them and tell them something that makes the parent uncomfortable, the parent starts to tell them what to do.”
This was the first time that the Swift Current & District Drug Task Force hosted the provincial drug strategy conference.
“Locally, it’s been a very positive thing for us because we had people here that wouldn’t be able to attend otherwise,” Drug Task Force Chairperson Danielle Poole said. “One of our major priorities at this point and one of the benefits of us hosting the conference is increasing that awareness and getting some other people involved in our group.”
She felt the theme of this year’s conference — “Building partnerships to enhance caring communities” — was effectively addressed during the two days.
“We all have to work together and network and work towards a common goal so that we do have a caring community,” she said. “That was highlighted throughout all of the topics and that was not necessarily planned. We wanted certain topics, but I think each speaker brought their own message about that and about creating awareness.”