Writing for the reader-funded site rabble.ca with the help of a Canadian Institutes for Health journalism award, Ann Silversides is devoting a four-part series to Canada’s prescription drug problem, declaring the country to be a “world leader in prescription drug abuse.” Canada’s pill problem hasn’t hit the headlines with the vehemence it has in the states, but Silversides says evidence points to Canadian drug abuse that’s every bit as damaging as what’s happening south of their border.
In the U.S., prescription opioids have been the leading cause of unintentional overdose deaths — far surpassing cocaine and heroin — since about 2001. The same is true in Canada, if the statistics from Ontario hold true for the rest of the country. (There is a striking lack of research in the area of prescription drug misuse in Canada, especially about the progression from use to abuse of these drugs.)
Yet in 2008, Canada had the highest rate per capita consumption of oxycodone in the world, surpassing even the United States, according figures from the International Narcotics Control Board.
The second installment in the series zeroes in on a specific Ontario inquest into two opiate overdose deaths, one which promises to shine a bright light on the nation’s broader struggle with the prescription drug abuse epidemic. Other articles in the series:
The CBC’s new series on dying has a unique provenance: The stories are the work of 16 graduate students at The University of Western Ontario, as well as that of CBC health reporters, and are the final product of a unique journalism course focused on reporting on death and dying. The collaboration seems to have started with a definition of its title, “A Good Death.” In this case, it means one that is “peaceful, loving and comfortable.” Access to such an end, the journalists found, varied widely depending on economic, geographic and cultural circumstances.
The introduction to the package has wonderful descriptions of all the stories that went into it but they don’t link to the pieces. I’ve taken the liberty of adding relevant links, then copying and pasting that section below.
Legal Feeds blogger Glenn Kauth, of the Canadian Law Times, reports that Ontario’s legislature is currently considering a law containing a little-known provision that would exempt from FOI law “information provided to, or records prepared by, a hospital committee for the purpose of assessing or evaluating the quality of health care and directly related programs and services provided by the hospital” starting Jan. 1, 2012 (scroll down to Schedule 15).
The leader of a provincial nurses’ organization took issue with the provision, telling the London Free Press that “The public has a right to know what’s happening in its local hospitals,” but Ontario health officials say hospitals need the exemption.
Health Minister Deb Matthews has defended the move to exempt information related to quality of care from public release. According to the Free Press, Matthews believes subjecting hospitals and doctors to greater scrutiny would prevent open dialogue about problems and how to fix them. “They must have a very open and frank discussion,” she said.
(Hat tip to Paul Levy, whose post on the matter also has some great first-hand material from Denmark)
Reporters from the CBC’s “Marketplace” program visited supermarkets in Canada’s three largest cities, bought 100 samples of chicken, and sent them off to a lab for analysis. When the analysis came back, they weren’t particularly surprised to find that two-thirds of the samples were contaminated by bacteria – that’s the sort of thing you expect from raw chicken. What they didn’t expect was that every one of the bacteria strains present in those bits of raw chicken, purchased from major supermarkets and labeled with big-name brands, was resistant to at least one antibiotic. Some were resistant to as many as eight.
“This is the most worrisome study I’ve seen of its kind,” said Rick Smith, the head of Environmental Defence, a consumer advocacy group.
The culprits in this case of superbug proliferation will be all too familiar to regular Covering Health readers.
Doctors and scientists told Marketplace co-host Erica Johnson that chicken farmers are overusing antibiotics — routinely giving healthy flocks doses of amoxicillin, tetracycline, erythromycin and ceftiofur to prevent disease and to make the chickens grow bigger, faster.
The full CBC program is available for free online. The reporters have even shared a spreadsheet of their test results.
CBC and Radio-Canada have cooperated to produce a comprehensive look at the nation’s pharmaceutical industry, which centers on Montreal, Canada’s second largest city.
Pharma’s Canadian outposts have sputtered in recent months, and Quebec’s government has struggled to keep the companies in-country.
Part 1: Government incentives to pharmaceutical companies.
Part 2: Regulation of clinical trials.
Part 3: Pharma’s role in continuing medical education.
In addition to the stories, be sure to take a look at the top few comments below the story. Also, the “Quick Fact” box, which taught me that “Montreal has the largest number of clinical trial organizations of any city in North America.”