Pubdate: Fri, 29 Aug 2014
Source: Hamilton Spectator (CN ON)
Copyright: 2014 The Hamilton Spectator
Author: Molly Hayes
Page: A3


Efficiency issues with tracking system implemented by province

A provincial overdose-tracking database that launched this year is not
giving a clear picture of Ontario's drug problem, doctors say.

"We're just not finding that it's giving us a good source of data to
say when something is going on," says Hamilton's chief medical officer
of health, Dr. Elizabeth Richardson.

The real-time tracking system was designed to provide the Ministry of
Health and Long-Term Care with live stats about opiate-related visits
and deaths in hospital emergency rooms across the province.

It's been implemented in about half of Ontario's hospitals, but the
ministry is still scrambling to address "gaps i n the information
sources used."

"It's a tricky situation because overdoses happen for a number of
reasons; it may be prescription drugs, it may be non-prescription
drugs =C2=85 it may be many other things that look like overdoses and the
turn out not to be," Richardson explained at a news conference two
weeks ago, relating to a lethal strain of heroin circulating around

On July 31, Hamilton police issued a public safety notice warning the
community about a sudden spike in heroin overdoses, followed by a news
conference on Aug. 14. Three people reportedly died in one week in
Hamilton in July - but no one will say how many deaths or overdoses
are suspected to be linked to the drug, or whether similar warnings
out of Peel and Toronto are related.

As of Tuesday, Hamilton police said there had been "no more" fatal
overdoses suspected to be linked to the drug over the past two weeks.
EMS, too, said overdose calls overall have returned to normal levels.

But one addictions expert says numbers should not be the

We may not know how many people have died, "but that doesn't mean you
don't jump on it right away," says Dr. Peter Selby, chief of the
addictions program at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in

"The bottom line is, what is it going to take? At what number do you
then say, 'Oh we've crossed a threshold, now we should act?'"

"If we are noticing this (spike of overdoses) =C2=85 then act on it. What

is the worst thing if you are wrong?" Selby says.

Data systems are typically archival - which he says is a chaotic
scenario causing people to "freeze" in a situation like the one
recently reported in Hamilton, "wringing their hands" while they await
formal information and reports.

"If you're going to wait for some provincial data system, you're going
to be waiting forever."

Police appealed to the public at the Aug. 14 news conference, asking
people to turn in samples of the drug for testing. Not surprisingly,
no one took them up on the offer.

At the same news conference, Hamilton Public Health workers encouraged
drug users to pick up a free overdose prevention kit - including
opioid antidote Naloxone (narcan) - from a public health nurse. But
they've handed out only 17 kits this month - and only around 70 in
total since the program launched in May.

According to a Bloomberg News report, heroin-related deaths in New
York City jumped 84 per cent from 2010 to 2012 - a hike blamed on a
crackdown on opioid prescriptions.

When OxyContin was taken off Ontario shelves in 2012, Selby says we
should have been better prepared for the consequences.

"Everybody knew that when you clamp down on a prescription opioid,
heroin will follow. We knew this was going to happen =C2=85 So what were 
hoping for - a different outcome here in Canada?" Selby says.

There were more than 580 opioid-related overdoses in Ontario in 2012.
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