Pubdate: Wed, 13 Jul 2016
Source: Truro Daily News (CN NS)
Page: 6
Copyright: 2016 The Daily News


Medical experts across Canada and the United States have been 
sounding loud warnings for the past few years about the explosion of 
deaths related to overdosing on opioid-related drugs. One U.S. 
authority compares the epidemic to the rapid spread of AIDS in the 
late 1980s and early 1990s.

Now there's new evidence about the disproportionate impact on one 
specific group - recently released prisoners. And it underlines the 
need for more robust services to treat them in the crucial first days 
when they are returning to the community.

The evidence comes from a study carried out by researchers at St. 
Michael's Hospital and the University of Toronto. They found that a 
tenth of adults in Ontario who died of a drug overdose between 2006 
and 2013 had been inmates in a provincial jail within one year of their death.

That means recent prisoners were 12 times more likely to die of an 
overdose than someone in the general provincial population. It's a 
striking difference, and it's similar to the results of similar 
surveys in Britain, the United States and Australia.

Also striking is the fact that many of the deaths came almost 
immediately after inmates were released. Twenty per cent of deaths 
occurred within a week after a prisoner was set free, and nine per 
cent came in the first two days.

Researchers say that suggests there is a "critical time period" right 
after release when intervention might make a difference, and cut the 
rising death toll from drug overdoses. That might include better 
education on drugs, substituting other drugs for opioids like the 
painkillers oxycodone and fentanyl, and changing the way doctors 
prescribe drugs.

It also involves more ready access to naloxone, an antidote to opioid 
overdoses. Ontario took an important step toward that in the past 
week when Health Minister Eric Hoskins directed his ministry to 
expand the province's naloxone program to include newly released inmates.

Ontario has joined British Columbia, Alberta and the federal 
government in making naloxone more easily accessible. The provinces 
are making naloxone kits available in pharmacies without the need for 
a prescription. And Ottawa has added the antidote to its list of 
drugs covered by the national pharmaceutical program for aboriginal 
people, who suffer disproportionately from opioid addiction and 
overdose deaths.

These are all positive steps toward fighting the rise of drug deaths. 
Focusing on prisoners and those just out of prison could cut the toll 
even more.

The Canadian Press
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