What will it take to move forward?

Opinion/Column: This week's column tackles the issue of drug and fentanyl abuse.

Despite living in small town, mostly rural Alberta, there remains an issue going on in and around the community that needs to be addressed.

The issue relates to the use and abuse of drugs along with the results that stem from that mostly criminal activity that can affect us all.

Sure, drug use may not be as noticeable, prevalent or even taking place in the community in which an individual lives. However, that doesn’t mean to say specific individuals have not, are not or won’t ever be impacted by it.

A recent presentation in Ponoka on the use, abuse, characteristics and effects of the illegal use and sale of fentanyl the highly addictive synthetic opioid drug that has been the subject of numerous news reports in the past year showed the situation simply isn’t something that can be dismissed as a ‘big city’ problem.

In 2016, there were 343 deaths in Alberta related to an overdose of fentanyl, which is 100 times stronger than morphine, a drug that people are likely more familiar with. Many of those deaths have occurred outside the province’s major cities, in places the public may not expect would have a problem with drug abuse.

And unlike other illegal drugs that have telltale signs of abuse, there is no ‘face of fentanyl.’ People can’t look at someone and say, ‘Hey, I bet that person is abusing fentanyl.’

One of the presenters, an Alberta Sheriff, spoke about some of his personal experiences including having to deal with a relative that became addicted to fentanyl. The individual was prescribed the medication in a patch for pain control following an injury and wasn’t able to disconnect from the drug as the need grew for larger doses to deal with the pain.

That experience alone demonstrated there is a personal side to the equation, not simply individuals dying that no one knows or cares about, that are not looking for help or seeking a way to get off the path to destruction.

It also goes to show that anyone from any walk of life, socio-economic situation, age or circumstance can fall victim to drugs.

Over-prescription

While trying to provide help to addicts through either counselling, rehab or using a potentially lifesaving drug to help with an overdose are a few of the actions people can take, one of the solutions to the problem is limiting the use of such powerful medications.

During the presentation, the crowd learned Canada now has the highest per-capita rate of opioid prescriptions issued in the world. This country surpassed the United States last year with about 60 out of every 100 Canadians receiving these kind of pain medications through a doctor.

That figure has increased by more than 60 per cent in the last five years. Is it any wonder the number of people that are now hooked on painkillers and other powerful, extremely addictive opioids has climbed and the number of overdose deaths are reaching new peaks.

Granted, doctors have a limited arsenal of options when it comes to relieving certain chronic, long term pain conditions. The problem comes when patients are being given these types of medication when it isn’t necessary.

One example is morphine or fentanyl being given to someone recovering from knee surgery just because the doctor doesn’t want a person to experience any pain. Excuse me, but a bit of pain is part of the recovery process and is the body’s reaction to you doing something the body says you aren’t ready for or shouldn’t be doing yet.

Somehow doctors need to realize just because the patient makes a request, they don’t have to do it. There are other medications, other ways to control pain to a certain level. Above that threshold, there must also be means to help people while avoiding making them dependent on it.

For anyone wanting more information, head to websites such as www.fentanylsafety.com, www.drugsfool.ca or www.albertahealthservices.ca/amh.

But that is…just an observation.