Latest on Canada's Oxycontin Problem
This article appears in today's Kenora Daily Miner and News. When I read it I came away with the impression that no one has a real clue regarding what to expect and how to handle the situation. can you imagine 70% of a community being addicted to the same drug?
Response to Oxycontin withdrawal will take entire community: Arthurs
By Jon Thompson
The opium-based painkiller and street drug Oxycontin ceased production a week ago and while First Nations leaders in particular have been calling for a strategy to address the widespread withdrawal Northern Ontario is expected to experience when underground supplies run out, no new plan has been deployed at any level.
On Wednesday, the top executive in the Northwestern Health Unit announced no one person can manage a response and called for the entire community to respond.
“My entire 52-year career doing this has been involving all the opioids in one way or another,” said Dr. Jim Arthurs, who took the helm as medical officer of health in 2008 after working as a pharmacist, a family physician and an emergency room doctor.
“I ask myself, what is the definition of a crisis? This started in written time 15 centuries ago and in verbal communication time, that some people remember and were able to pass down, it was centuries before that. This plant has been a problem in some parts and all over the world for 36 centuries and nothing anyone has done has been able to solve it yet.”
It was in his teens as a pharmacy student in Ohio when Arthurs first experienced the “ravages” of opioid addiction. A double amputee casualty of either the Second World War or the Korean War that he had watched receive larger doses of painkiller drugs for years pulled a knife and robbed the pharmacy because his doctor wouldn’t prescribe the drug.
Arthurs became emotional as he recalled seeing the same patients coming in to the emergency rooms of the United States day in and day out his 25-year career. Ultimately, that helpless emotion led him to a career in public health.
“I moved here not knowing anyone in this town and now, I know almost everybody who comes in through the ER door? Something’s wrong with that. This was a city of 30,000 people.”
Despite having attended university in the exploratory 1960s, Arthurs has never been a drug user and counts himself fortunate the allure of learning kept his attention through those years. As the media attention around discontinuing Oxycontin soared last week, he found himself awake at 2 a.m., writing some reflections in anticipation of having to answer the question as to why nothing has been planned to address the widespread narcotic withdrawal that could already be underway. His thoughts returned to his freshman year, when then recently elected president John F. Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”
Philosophically, he thought, that’s where a strategy could begin.
“The First Nations want us to help. That’s understandable. Other people might be asking me or the health unit or the hospital, ‘what are you going to do about this?’ I can’t do anything,” he said. “I’ll help collect information but I can’t do anything. I have open doors with the Ministry of Health so I’m a good funnel but I need this community and this entire area to come together and talk about this.”
The Ministry of Health intends to assemble a group of experts to address the issue for the province but Arthurs’ vision is to develop grassroots conversations in Kenora and Northwestern Ontario to tackle the local nuances. He established an email address dedicated to incoming offers of support and ideas from health professionals and the community at large (firstname.lastname@example.org).
“What I will insist on is we’re not going to talk about blame,” he said. “There’s nobody in this room who hasn’t been there in terms of complaining about other people but it’s not going to help. What I’ll be searching for in comments is, what can you do or what can I do? How can we expand on what works? How can we quit doing what doesn’t work?”