UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Treatment of prescription opioid disorders in Canada: looking at the ‘other epidemic’? Fischer, Benedikt; Kurdyak, Paul; Goldner, Elliot; Tyndall, Mark; Rehm, Jürgen


The magnitude and consequences of prescription opioid (PO) misuse and harms (including rising demand for PO disorder treatment) in Canada have been well-documented. Despite a limited evidence-base for PO dependence treatment, opioid maintenance therapy (OMT) - mostly by means of methadone maintenance treatment (MMT) - has become the de facto first-line treatment for PO-disorders. For example in the most populous province of Ontario, some 50,000 patients - large proportions of them young adults - are enrolled in MMT, resulting in a MMT-rate that is 3–4 times higher than that of the United States. MMT in Ontario has widely proliferated towards a quasi-treatment industry within a system context of the public fee-payer offering generous incentives for community-based MMT providers. Contrary to the proliferation of MMT, there has been no commensurate increase in availability of alternative (e.g., detox, tapering, behavioral), and less intrusive and/or costly, treatments which may provide therapeutic benefits at least for sub-sets of PO-dependent patients. Given the extensive PO-dependence burden combined with its distinct socio-demographic and clinical profile (e.g., involving many young people, less intensive or risky opioid use), an evidence-based ‘stepped-care’ model for PO dependence treatment ought to be developed in Canada where MMT constitutes one, but likely a last resort or option, for treatment. Other, less intrusive treatment options as well as the best mix of treatment options should be systematically investigated and implemented. This case study has relevance and implications for evidence-based treatment also for the increasing number of other jurisdictions where PO misuse and disorders have been rising.

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