The personal impact of the opioid addiction

The COVID-19 pandemic is worsening the already deadly and ongoing crisis of opioid-related overdoses and deaths in Canada. It is having a tragic impact on people who use substances, as well as their families and communities. The crisis cuts across all walks of life, impacting your neighbour, your colleague, your dog walker, your child, your aunt, your friend.

According to the Government of Canada, there were 1,705 opioid-related deaths between July and September 2020 – a 120 per cent increase from the same time frame in 2019. In the six months following the initial implementation of the COVID-19 health prevention measures (April to September 2020) there were 3,351 apparent opioid-related deaths – a 74 per cent increase from the six months prior.

It is commonly known that anyone who takes opioids is at risk of developing dependency, which can transform into addiction. The length of time you use opioids plays a role, but it is impossible to know who is vulnerable to eventual dependence on and overuse of these drugs. Further, addiction is a condition in which something that started as necessary to manage pain now feels like something you cannot live without. Essentially, opioids trigger the release of endorphins, your brain’s feel-good transmitters. These endorphins muffle your perception of pain and boost feelings of pleasure. When an opioid dose wears off, you may find yourself wanting those good feelings back. This is the first milestone on the path toward potential addiction.

When you take opioids repeatedly over time, your body slows its production of endorphins. The same dose of opioids stops triggering good feelings and, as such, the length of time you use prescribed opioids plays a role.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention informs us that after just 10 days on a prescription opioid, 20 per cent of users become long-term users. While there are a number of factors that have likely contributed to a worsening of the opioid crisis, including increased feelings of isolation, stress and anxiety and the limited availability of services for people who use drugs, one thing is clear: these startling statistics require action.

As Canada’s foremost pharmacy benefits manager, and because one of our mandates is to process private prescription drug claims for millions of Canadians on behalf of our clients, we are uniquely positioned to help address the opioid crisis and fight the growing weight of these staggering statistics.

As a result, we can identify when an individual first claims an opioid. Armed with this knowledge, and in an effort to make the use of opioid medications safer for our clients’ plan members and to help address Canada’s opioid epidemic, we launched the Opioid Management Solution in 2019.

Our solution proactively manages a wide range of opioid users: new and acute, as well as short-term, intermittent and chronic, by placing limits on the quantity and type of opioid prescribed for people who are new to opioid medication. Essentially, our solution shifts first-time opioid users to safer, shorter-term prescriptions.

The Express Scripts Canada Opioid Management Solution seeks to put the brakes on opioid misuse by taking a comprehensive approach to safe opioid use that minimizes early exposure and prevents progression to overuse and misuse. This helps alleviate the physical, emotional and financial effects of this epidemic by minimizing exposure to opioids and preventing progression to overuse and misuse.

On average, this solution realizes a nearly 32% reduction in the average days’ supply for new opioid-prescribed patients. These results prove that we can help combat the weight of this national opioid crisis.

The 2021 Express Scripts Canada Prescription Drug Trend Report reveals that the unique behaviours and health patterns of early-stage, high-risk opioid users require intervention. Thanks to the application of advanced analytics, we have a better understanding of a plan members’ behaviours which inform the design of effective programs that result in better health outcomes.

One thing is clear, innovative solutions that shift first-time opioid users to safer, short-term prescriptions are crucial in battling this epidemic and Express Scripts Canada will continue to bring services and solutions to the market that will help stem the tide of Canada’s opioid epidemic.

If you would like more information about our solution, please don’t hesitate to contact us.