Opioids are classes of powerful drugs that are primarily prescribe to treat severe pain. Opioids are depressant drugs, like alcohol, meaning they slow down the part of the brain that controls breathing. Opioids include illicit drugs, such as heroin, fentanyl, as well as prescription medications, such as Percocet, morphine and codeine. Opioids are an effective medication when used as prescribed, but they carry a risk of addiction because of their powerful effects.
Canada is now the second largest consumer of prescription opioids, second only to the United States, and with a 203% increase in usage between 2000 and 2010 (Andresen, Martin, Boyd, Neil pg.112, 2009). That increase is greater than that of the United States, in spite of the US’s first place ranking for opioid use. An opioid overdose happens when a person takes an amount of a drug that is more than the body can process. The risk of overdose is higher when a person takes opioids in combination with other drugs (Kerr, et al., 2003). So far this year, 193 Albertans have died due to apparent drug overdoses related to fentanyl compared with 205 deaths during the same period last year.
Among users of opioid pain relievers, 5.2% (or 243,000 Canadians representing 0.9% of the total population) reported abusing them. Among adult users of opioid pain relievers, 3.1% (corresponding to 0.5% of the total adult population) abused such drugs, an increase over the 2011 rates” (Canadian Alcohol and Drug Use Monitoring Survey, 2012).
In Canada, the Government acknowledges that opioid overdose is a real threat to Canadians and with each passing day, more and more people are dying. The immediate goal is to make safe injection sites easier to open and fentanyl harder to smuggle into Canada (Broadhead et al., 2002). Safe injection sites (SIS) is a legally sanctioned health facility that offers a hygienic environment where people can use illicit drugs under the supervision of trained staff (Kerr, Wood, Small, Palepu, and Tyndall, 2003). In Canada, from 2004 to 2013, there has been a 41% increase in drug-induced deaths. It’s no secret that substance abuse is a major problem in Canada and people are dying of overdose of opioids (Kerr, et al., 2003).