National Addictions Awareness Week

November 13-19th is National Addictions Awareness Week – and a good reason to talk openly and honestly about addiction and its impact. 

If you’ve followed the news at all in the past year you have likely heard about the growing opioid crisis in Canada. Each week we hear stories of tragic overdoses and deaths related to powerful drugs like fentanyl, W-18 and others. 

Health care providers and governments at all levels are playing catch up, trying to deal with this major issue.  I support the efforts of many to raise awareness about the danger of opioid use, to use careful prescribing practices with this class of medicines, encourage families to communicate, and to provide harm reduction initiatives such as safe injection sites and overdose training and supplies for front line health care workers. 

According to the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, hospital costs associated with opioid harm totaled $15 million in 2011. It is safe to assume this number has gone up significantly in the past five years. Worldwide, Canada is the second leading prescriber of opioids. It is a crisis we can’t ignore.

What you may not know is that alcohol abuse accounts for an even larger cost to our health care system. The same statistics showed hospital costs of $145 million for alcohol related harm in 2011.  

These statistics are also thought to be very conservative as they only account for people admitted to hospital for severe and direct harms such as acute intoxication, convulsions or withdrawal symptoms. The statistics do not include costs associated with accidents or injuries resulting from substance use, for those visiting ERs but not admitted to beds or those seeking help at community outpatient facilities.

Dealing with problem substance use means dismantling some of the myths still surrounding it. Substance abuse disorders do not discriminate. They affect all socioeconomic groups and aren’t choosy about race or gender either. Still, many believe substance abuse results from a moral failing and this attitude unfortunately prevents many from being open with family and friends and seeking help when it’s needed. 

Substance abuse and other mental illness often co-exist and impact each other. Until recently, treatment for each was dealt with separately and this was a barrier to recovery. When both a substance use disorder and a psychiatric condition exist, they need to be addressed in a coordinated way for the best chance at recovery.  

Our health systems are beginning to recognize the need for these sorts of treatments to go hand in hand, but more needs to be done to educate health professionals and the public. 

If you are struggling with a substance abuse problem, speak with your doctor. Recovery is possible and help is available. 


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