Canada and the United States (U.S.) face an opioid use disorder and opioid overdose epidemic.
The most effective OUD treatment is opioid agonist therapy (OAT). It means buprenorphine (with and without naloxone) and methadone. Although federal approval for OAT occurred decades ago, in both countries, access to and use of OAT is low. Restrictive policies and complex regulations contribute to limited treatment access.
We did a non-systematic literature scan and reviewed all available policy documents. We studied and compared treatment policies and practice at the federal level in Canada vs. United States. And also at the local level in British Columbia (B.C.) vs. Oregon.
There are differences and similarities between federal and local OAT policies. This applies to access to treatment. In Canada, treatment policy control has shifted from federal to provincial authorities. But in the U.S., federal authorities maintain primary control of treatment regulations. Local OAT health insurance coverage policies differed between B.C. and Oregon. While B.C. had 5 treatment options, Oregon had only 2 OAT options with some limitations.
Relaxation of special federal regulatory policies
The Canadian and U.S. federal OAT policies differ. So do the local OAT access and coverage policies in B.C. and Oregon. And it’s also because of the relaxation of special federal OAT regulatory controls in Canada. Our paper also highlights the complicating contributions and likely policy solutions. For example, the prescription regime and drug control regime within the drug policy sub-domain. Or, the constitutional rights within the broader policy domain.
U.S. policy makers and health officials could consider adopting Canada’s regulatory policy approach to expand treatment access.
Better access mitigates the harms of the ongoing opioid overdose epidemic.
Reference: Priest, K. C., Gorfinkel, L., Klimas, J., Jones, A. A., Fairbairn, N., & McCarty, D. (2019). Comparing Canadian and United States opioid agonist therapy policies. Int J Drug Policy. doi:10.1016/j.drugpo.2019.01.020
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Have you ever heard of compound 1080? No? I’m not surprised. Illegal in most countries, this poison (sodium monofluoroacetate) is used to kill wolves in Canada. Read more about a recent visit to the Northern Lights wolf centre near Golden, BC, that opened my eyes to the cruel practices of money and politics – the usual suspects from the war on drugs.
Caribou’s population in Western Canada is dwindling. Some Canadian provinces, like Alberta and British Columbia, have put in place aggressive measures to save Caribou.
Wolves are Caribou’s natural predators. To kill them seems logical in the fight for the Caribou’s survival. But only if we forget that Wolves are keystone species. “A keystone in anarch’s crown secures the other stones in place. Keystone species play the samerole in many ecological communities by maintaining the structure and integrityof the community.” This means that their killing will kick-start a chain reaction, leading to extinction not only of Caribou, but also other species and desolation of the land. The Yellowstone example is a worthwhile lesson: when the park eradicated the thriving predators, the antelopes overcrowded and nearly destroyed the grasslands. Predators have been reintroduced successfully.
“The recovery of the gray wolf after its eradication from Yellowstone National Park, almost ninety years ago, demonstrates how crucial keystone species are to the long-term sustainability of the ecosystems they inhabit.”
Drugs have predictable effects on people – the higher the dose, the more toxic they are. This is different from the addictive potential. Even the most dangerous of drugs – like heroin or cocaine – are used by millions of people relatively without problems and without addiction. Nobody becomes addicted after one dose. This means that we have been lied to about drugs and their effects.
Meanwhile, Canadian’s officials keep laying poisoned baits that will be eaten not only by the wolves, but by all other carnivore, such as, foxes, ravens, etc. The 24-hour delay of the poison kills not only the alpha-female, but her cubs too. When she comes back from the hunt, feeds them the food from her stomach, all of them will die. Seems effective. How come that this strategy won’t save the Caribou?
Our strategy to solve the drug problem has been based on the lies about drugs’ effects. The war on drugs was declared as the most powerful strategy to eliminate them. Research has shown that it doesn’t work. Instead, wrong people are put to jail when the drug laws are enforced selectively. What’s needed is often viewed as bad by the general public. Clean needles, safe injecting rooms and prescribed heroin are seen as helpful to maintaining harmful behaviour of people with addiction. The opposite is truth. They save lives. Because it’s the public opinion, and not the science, that wins elections, politicians will selectively use to please the public and ignore the science in solving the drug problem. Too bad for people who use drugs, but who cares about them anyway?
Not only are wolves the keystone species, they also are not the reason for Caribou’s sudden decline. Who’s to blame? Firstly, it’s the oil and fracking industry. By taking the land where the old-growth forest hosts Caribou, the industry is pushing them out of their natural habitat. Secondly, Caribou thrives in old-growth forest only. It takes 80-100 years for the forest to grow back again. Finally, they’ll die before they could return back.
Most likely, the Caribou will disappear from Canadian’s landscape. People will say that they were destined to die. We have done everything we could. We even killed the wolves. Similarly, many people who use illicit drugs will die or go to prison. People will say that they lacked motivation or were beyond help. We have done everything we could to help them. We banned the drugs and enforced the law.
The bottom line: end war on wolves
“We need wolves to have a future; we need the to have water, air and biodiversity.” But they need your help and your voice. Vote! Contact the politicians and ask them about environmental issues. Likewise, people will continue to use drugs in future. We need an open and science-informed discussion about drugs.
Inspired about parallels between animal and addiction research? Read my blog about killer whales and researchers here.
Disclaimer: the organisations and individuals named in this article have not seen or reviewed this article. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any agency mentioned.
We talked to 787 people receiving methadone for opioid use disorder in Vancouver, Canada. Our new study followed them as they switched from methadone (1mg/mL) to Methadose (10mg/mL). We asked whether their drinking has changed after the switch – between 2013 and 2015. 16% said they drank too much at least once in the last six months. Those who drank too much were not more likely to do so after the shift to Methadose. The Substance Use& Misuse journal has published the study this week. Persons on methadone for opioid use disorder may report going through opioid withdrawal and increasing their illicit opioid use when switched to Methadose. We need to understand impacts of these changes on other forms of drug use. Careful and planned information about upcoming changes may help people cope with the potential risks better.