Low income Ontarians get risky doses of painkillers

Tue Jan 25, 2011 5:35pm EST
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By Solarina Ho

TORONTO (Reuters) - Low income Canadians in the province of Ontario are being prescribed dangerously high doses of addictive painkillers like morphine and oxycodone, raising their risk of death, according to a study released on Tuesday.

The study, from the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Studies, found patients were frequently prescribed higher dosages of opioids than Canadian guidelines recommend, and they stayed on the drugs for longer.

"These drugs are being prescribed to large numbers of people, often at doses that are not simply high, they are dangerous," said David Juurlink, a co-author of the study.

"Most patients, and even some doctors, may not appreciate that these drugs can cause death, particularly at high doses or when taken with alcohol or other sedating drugs, as they often are."

The Toronto-based institute focuses on research related to health care delivery in Ontario. Its study was published in Open Medicine on Tuesday.

The study found that the prescription rate for painkillers rose 16.2 percent in five years to 2008 for patients covered by Ontario's public drug plan -- a plan that mostly covers low-income residents.

About a third of the patients were receiving daily doses of long-acting painkillers like OxyContin that was above the clinical high-dose recommendation.

The research illustrated a wide gap with previous studies, which showed a far lower use of opioids among the overall population than that in the institute's report.   Continued...