The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide this submission in response to Health Canada’s consultation on new and innovative ideas on how to further strengthen the federal government’s health-focussed approach to substance use issues through the Canadian Drugs and Substances Strategy (CDSS)
What sorts of circumstances do you see within your networks, communities or in society that you think contribute to problematic substance use?
There are multiple factors that contribute to problematic substance use. It is a serious, chronic and relapsing medical condition for which there are effective treatments. However, using the social determinants as a framework, most health promotion and prevention efforts will take place outside of the traditional health and medical care services. .
Many Canadians face barriers in their physical, social and economic environments which can contribute to problematic substance use, and certain populations are at higher risk given these circumstances. For example, early childhood is a critical time in the social, emotional, cognitive and physical development of a person. Experiences in early life can ‘get under the skin’, changing the ways that genes are expressed. Negative experiences such as poverty or family or parental violence can have significant impacts on this important period of development.
What is necessary is a coordinated effort across government sectors to ensure that all policy decisions serve to increase opportunities for health. Improving population health and reducing inequities should be an overall objective for all governments in Canada.
Have you seen or experienced programs, practices or models at the local or regional level that could be expanded, or implemented more broadly, to improve circumstances or social determinants of health that influence substance use?
Income is critical to individual health and is closely linked to many of the other social determinants of health. These include but are not limited to: education, employment, early childhood development, housing, social exclusion, and physical environment. Adequate consideration must be given to the social and economic determinants of health, factors such as income and housing that have a major impact on health outcomes. Minimizing poverty should be a top priority.
In 2015, the CMA passed a resolution endorsing the concept of a basic income guarantee, which is a cash transfer from government to citizens not tied to labour market participation. It ensures sufficient income to meet basic needs and live with dignity, regardless of employment status. A basic income guarantee has the potential to alleviate or even eliminate poverty. It has the potential to reduce the substantial, long-term social consequences of poverty, including higher crime rates and fewer students achieving success in the educational system.
Drug use must not be treated with a criminal justice approach, which does not address the determinants of drug use, treat addictions, or reduce the harms associated with drug use. More investments need to be made in prevention, harm reduction and treatment, keeping individuals out of the criminal justice system. Drug use is a complex issue, and collaboration among health and public safety professionals, and society at large, is essential.
What needs to change to make sure that opioid medications are being provided and used appropriately, based on the needs of each patient?
Policy makers must recognize that prescription opioids are an essential tool in the alleviation of pain and suffering, particularly in palliative and cancer care. Doctors support patients in the management of acute and chronic pain, as well as problematic substance use, and as such have long been concerned about the harms associated with opioid use.
Treatment options and services for both problematic substance use as well as pain management are woefully under-resourced in Canada. Experts believe that improved access to specialized pain treatment could reduce inappropriate use of pain medications. Current best practices in pain management include care by an interprofessional team that could include physiotherapists, occupational therapists, psychologists and other health professionals; non-pharmaceutical interventions such as therapy for trauma and social pain, social supports and coping strategies; appropriate pharmaceutical prescription options, covered by provincial formularies; and a focus on patient participation and empowerment.12 Availability and access of these critical resources varies by jurisdiction and region. The federal government should prioritize the expansion of these services.
It is also important to support clinicians in their practice. The 2017 Opioid Prescribing Guidelines need to be kept current through ongoing funding. Physicians require tools, including those that facilitate monitoring of effectiveness and tolerance by tracking pain and physical function; screening for past and current substance use; screening for depression; and, tapering of problematic or ineffective doses.
How can we make sure that those who require prescription opioids to manage their pain have access to them, without judgement or discrimination?
Governments need to incorporate the identification and elimination of stigma as a quality of care indicator in the ongoing monitoring of health system performance at all levels. They also need to implement and evaluate national public awareness and education strategies to counteract the stigma associated with substance use issues as well as enforcing legislation and regulations to guard against discrimination against people with mental and substance use issues.
Health professionals need to have access to education on pain management and treatment of problematic substance use, recognizing both issues as serious medical conditions for which there are effective treatments.
Which kinds of messages would work best to help Canadians understand the serious harms that can result from stigma around substance use?
A recent report from the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) and Public Safety Canada cited stigma as “an enormous barrier to individuals seeking and maintaining treatment.” Even though there is broad recognition that we are in a public health crisis, until very recently the focus of the federal National Anti-Drug Strategy was heavily skewed towards a criminal justice approach rather than a public health approach with an emphasis on enforcement, as opposed to prevention, treatment and harm reduction.8 This has serious implications in how society views people who use drugs. As noted in the CCSA-Public Safety report, “Language matters. Speak about people first, with compassion and respect.”13
A stigma reduction strategy must be core to the activities of the federal government. Stigma involves thoughts, emotions and behaviours; thus, a comprehensive approach includes interventions to target each of these dimensions at both the individual and population level. The strategy should include aspects of:
* Public awareness and education to facilitate understanding about the importance of early diagnosis, treatment, recovery and prevention;
* Enhanced provider/student education and support;
* Policy analysis and modification of discriminatory legislation;
* Support for a strong voluntary sector to voice the concerns of patients and their families;
* Exposure to positive spokespeople (e.g. prominent Canadians) who have mental illness and/or addiction in order to highlight success stories;
* Researching stigma.
How can we best act to reduce stigma across the country?
Engagement with people who use drugs to help them share their stories and experiences with stigma with the public
What would you recommend to improve substance use treatment services in Canada?
This challenge requires a complex and multifaceted solution; and to further this aim, Canada needs a comprehensive national strategy to address the harms associated with psychoactive drugs in Canada, whether illegal or prescription-based, complementing existing strategies to address the harms associated with the other two legal drugs - alcohol and tobacco. This comprehensive approach is necessary, as isolated measures can have unintended consequences, such as under-medicating people that require a medical treatment or constraining people to seek illegal drugs as an option when medications are made tamper-resistant. One of the fundamental principles of health care is that it be patient centred.11 CMA defines patient-centred care as “seamless access to the continuum of care in a timely manner … that takes into consideration the individual needs and preferences of the patient and his/her family and treats the patient with respect and dignity.”
It is essential that patients be core members of the health care team, working with health care providers to address their individual needs, preferences and aspirations and to seek their personal paths to well-being. Physicians and other health professionals can help patients make choices about their treatment and can provide information and support to patients and their families as they seek to cope with the effects of problematic use and live functional lives. The health care provider community needs tools to assist in the reduction of stigma, access to resources and supportive environments.
What obstacles or barriers do people face when they want to access treatment in Canada?
Obstacles to treatment include the lack of publicly-funded treatment centres, access to locations for remote areas, limited number of beds available, the cost of private treatment (lack of insurance), and stigma. The CMA supports the enhancement of access to options for treatment that address different needs.12 Treatment programs must be coordinated and patient-centred, and address physical, psychological, social and spiritual circumstances. For example, it is important that treatment programs be culturally relevant for Indigenous communities.
In addition to current harm reduction initiatives – such as supervised consumption sites, needle exchange programs – what other harm reduction services should governments consider implementing in Canada?
There is a dire need to address harm reduction in prisons. Even back in 2005, the CMA recommended to the Correctional Service of Canada that it develop, implement and evaluate a pilot needle exchange program in prison(s) under its jurisdiction. These services are not widespread and accessible to prison populations. In Canada, people in prison face far greater risk of HIV and hepatitis C infection because they are denied access to sterile injection equipment as a harm reduction strategy.
Hospitals need to incorporate harm reduction strategies as well, allowing people who use drugs to access much needed health services.
How can we better bring public health and law enforcement together to explore ways to reduce the cycle of involvement for people who use substances with the criminal justice system?
Training for police and other frontline criminal justice and corrections workers in how to interact with people with substance use issues is essential. The CMA believes that the government must take a broad public health policy approach. Changes to the criminal law affecting cannabis must not promote normalization of its use and must be tied to a national drug strategy that promotes awareness and prevention and provides for comprehensive treatment.13
The CMA recognized that a blanket prohibition of possession for teenagers and young adults would not reflect current reality or a harm reduction approach. The possibility that a young person might incur a lifelong criminal record for periodic use or possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use means that the long-term social and economic harms of cannabis use can be disproportionate to the drug's physiological harm.
What further steps can the federal government take to better address current regulation and enforcement priorities, such as addressing organized drug crime and the dangerous illegal drugs like fentanyl being brought into Canada?
The federal government must continue to work closely with the RCMP, local and provincial law enforcement agencies, Canada Post, the Canadian Border Services Agency, Crown attorneys, the Canadian military, and international health officials and law enforcement agencies to address this issue. This topic was covered in the recent CCSA/Public Safety Canada report.10
Recognizing Indigenous rights and self-determination, how can all governments work together to address the high rates of problematic substance use faced by some Indigenous communities?
Difficulties in access are particularly acute for Canada's Indigenous peoples. Many live in communities with limited access to health care services, sometimes having to travel hundreds of miles to access care. Additionally, there are jurisdictional challenges; many fall through the cracks between the provincial and federal health systems.
While geography is a significant barrier for Indigenous peoples, it is not the only one. Indigenous peoples living in Canada's urban centres also face difficulties. Poverty, social exclusion and discrimination can be barriers to needed health care. Of all federal spending on indigenous programs and services only 10% is allocated to urban Aboriginals. This means that Aboriginals living in urban areas are unable to access programs such as Aboriginal head start, or alcohol and drug services, which would be available if they were living on reserve. Further, even when care is available it may not be culturally appropriate.
Canada's indigenous peoples tend to be over-represented in populations most at risk and with the greatest need for care, making the lack of access a much greater issue for their health status. It is important that problematic substance use programs be culturally relevant for Indigenous communities.
It is clear that the First Nations and Inuit peoples of Canada experience mental illness, problematic substance use and poor mental health at rates exceeding that of other Canadians.11 Individual, community and population level factors contribute to this including socioeconomic status, social environment, child development, nutrition, maternal health, culture and access to health services. The urgent need to work with these communities and identify the structures and interventions to reduce the burden of mental illness and substance use is critical to the health and wellness and future of First Nations and Inuit peoples.
Enhanced federal capacity should be created through First Nations and Inuit Health that will provide increased funding and support for First Nations and Inuit community health strategies. The establishment of a working groups comprised of First Nations and Inuit health experts and accountable to First Nations and Inuit leadership is essential for the success of this initiative. Both expert and resource supports are integral elements to facilitate and encourage culturally appropriate strategies and programming in these communities.
What can we learn from Indigenous approaches to problematic substance use, such as using holistic approaches, that may help inform activities under the CDSS?
The federal government must consult First Nations, Inuit, and Métis representatives to develop programs that are culturally relevant and appropriate for Indigenous communities.
How can governments, and the health, social, and law enforcement sectors design more effective substance use policies and programs for at-risk populations?
The government must identify and consult those communities and populations most at risk. This includes First Nations, Inuit, and Métis representatives, community advocates, municipalities, and provincial and local public health officers. Data that describes rates of use and issues specific to each at risk group is important to be able to better understand and address needs.
What are effective policies and programs to help improve access to prevention, treatment, and harm reduction services for at-risk populations?
There are innovative approaches to address the needs of high-volume users as well as at-risk populations. As many of these involve greater integration between health and the community sector and attention to issues not traditionally funded through health care payment systems, there is a need to provide access to funds to enable these innovations to continue and be spread across the country.
A targeted, integrated approach to identify communities in need is required and this must be based on reliable community data (i.e., meaningful use of patient data) which can be used to integrate resources to improve health status. For example, the Canadian Primary Care Sentinel Surveillance Network (CPCSSN) is Canada's first multi-disease electronic medical records (EMR) surveillance and research system that allows family physicians, epidemiologists and researchers from across the country to better understand and manage chronic care conditions for their patients. Health information is collected from EMRs in the offices of participating primary care providers (e.g. family physicians) for the purposes of improving the quality of care for Canadians suffering from chronic and mental health conditions and three neurologic conditions including Alzheimer's and related dementias. CPCSSN makes it possible to securely collect and report on vital information from Canadians' health records to improve the way these chronic diseases and neurologic conditions are managed (http://cpcssn.ca/).
What urgent gaps related to substance use (in terms of data, surveillance, and/or research) need to be addressed in Canada?
Improvements are being made in the collection of data in Canada. This is crucial to be able to assess the harms and track the trends and impact of the introduction of policy changes.12 As well, the government must continue to improve the ability of the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Canadian Institute of Health Information, the chief coroners of Canada and related agencies to collect, analyze and report data.
One such program is the surveillance system in the United States called RADARS (Researched Abuse, Diversion and Addiction-Related Surveillance system) that is “a surveillance system that collects product-and geographically-specific data on abuse, misuse, and diversion of prescription drugs.” It surveys data involving opioids including poison control centres, treatment programs, on the “illicit acquisition or distribution of prescription opioids, stimulants, and other prescription drugs of interest from entities investigating drug diversion cases,” among other opioid-related issues.
The CMA has recommended that all levels of government work with one another and with health professional regulatory agencies to develop a pan-Canadian system of real-time prescription monitoring. As a first step, the CMA recommends the establishment of consistent national standards for prescription monitoring.
Prescription Monitoring Programs (PMP) should be compatible with existing electronic medical and pharmacy record systems and with provincial pharmaceutical databases. Participation in prescription monitoring programs should not impose an onerous administrative burden on health care providers. PMPs should not deter physicians from using controlled medications when necessary. Further, PMPs are a valuable component in addressing the gaps related to substance use.
How can we use research tools to better identify emerging substance use issues as early as possible?
See above response to question 18 - “RADARS”
Government of Canada. Consultation on strengthening Canada’s approach to substance use issues. Ottawa: Health Canada; 2018. Available: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/programs/consultation-strengthening-canada-approach-substance-use-issues.html (accessed 2018 Sep 5).
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Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Statement to the House of Commons Committee on Health addressing the opioid crisis in Canada. Ottawa: The Association; 2016. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Briefpdf/BR2017-15.pdf (accessed: 2018 Nov 26).
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Canadian Medical Association (CMA). Health Canada consultation on restriction of marketing and advertising of opioids. Ottawa: The Association; 2018. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Briefpdf/BR2018-13.pdf (accessed 2018 Nov 26).
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Sproule B. Prescription Monitoring Programs in Canada: Best Practice and Program Review. Ottawa, ON, 2015 Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. Available: http://www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/CCSA-Prescription-Monitoring-Programs-in-Canada-Report-2015-en.pdf (accessed 2018 Dec 4).
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide this submission in response to Health Canada's notice as published in the Canada Gazette, Part 1 for interested stakeholders to provide comments on Health Canada's intent to amend Schedule 1 to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) and the Schedule to the Narcotic Control Regulations (NCR) to include tramadol, its salts, isomers and derivatives and the salts and isomers of its derivatives.1
Tramadol has been marketed in Canada since 2005 and is available only by prescription.1 The CMA is concerned that, despite tramadol being judged low-risk in terms of addiction, it is nevertheless an opioid and should be placed in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, under Schedule 1.2
The Canadian Institute for Health Information reports that tramadol is one of six opioids accounting for 96% of all opioid prescriptions between 2012 and 2016.3 The report noted that there was a significant increase in tramadol prescriptions and Defined Daily Doses (DDDs) in that same 2012 to 2016 timeframe that may have been due in part to a decrease in prescriptions and DDDs for codeine.
Tramadol is considered a weak opioid and is used to treat "moderate pain that has not responded to first-line treatments."4 It is regarded as having a lower rate of overdose, misuse and addiction than more powerful opioids.4
However, it is not without risks. The addition of tramadol to the CDSA, Schedule 1, is important because, as with any opioid, dependence on tramadol can occur with use over prolonged periods. According to the World Health Organization "dependence to tramadol may occur when used within the recommended dose range of tramadol but especially when used at supra-therapeutic doses."5 Physical dependence is "distinct from addiction, which includes behavioural elements and harm despite continued drug use." Maintenance of patients on opioids sometimes is only to avoid withdrawal symptoms, caused by physical dependence, as opposed to being used to treat pain.6 Tramadol must be tapered under supervision from a health professional.
In addition, tramadol's analgesic effect can be unpredictable depending on a person's genetic capacity to metabolize the drug. Success or failure will be predicated "on it being converted by CYP2D6 to an active metabolite, O-desmethyltramadol."7 If there is a CYP2D6 inhibitor present or if the person's genetic make-up is such that they do not metabolize the enzyme very well, "conversion can be blocked so that little or none of the metabolite is produced and little analgesic effect is achieved."7 These tramadol pathways may also be blocked which could lead to the drug being "present at higher concentrations for longer periods."7 As one expert has noted "when a doctor prescribes tramadol, he or she rolls the dice, not knowing whether the patient will get a bit of opioid, a lot of opioid or none at all."6
The risks associated with tramadol with respect to children are such that the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently recommended that tramadol (and codeine) should not be given to children under 12.8 Their concern stems from the potential for tramadol (and codeine) to "cause life-threatening breathing problems in children."9 The FDA also recommended that breast-feeding women not be given tramadol because of the potential harm to the child. As well, teens 12 to 18 should not be given the drug "if there is a history of obesity, obstructive sleep apnea, or severe lung disease."9 Further, it warned that it should not "be given to children or adolescents as a pain medication after surgery to remove the tonsils or adenoids."9
It is very important for the health and safety of Canadians that tramadol be placed on CDSA's Schedule 1. As described in the Notice of Intent for this consultation, this change will "prevent diversion of tramadol and protect Canadians from the health risks associated with unauthorized use."1 Further, pharmacists will not be able to follow verbal prescriptions and or provide refills of tramadol, and other controls outlined in the Narcotic Control Regulations within the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.10
In conclusion, the CMA is concerned that, despite tramadol being judged low-risk in terms of addiction, it is nevertheless an opioid and carries dangers similar to its stronger counterparts. Doctors support patients in the management of acute and chronic pain, as well as addictions, and as such we have long been concerned about the harms associated with opioid use. Therefore, as part of our advocacy, the CMA supports Health Canada's intent to amend Schedule 1 to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) and the Schedule to the Narcotic Control Regulations (NCR) to include tramadol, its salts, isomers and derivatives and the salts and isomers of its derivatives. By doing so it will "help dispel the perception that it's somehow safer than other opioids."6
The CMA continues to urge governments to increase access to services and treatment options for addiction and pain management, as well as harm reduction.11
1 Controlled Drugs and Substances Act: Notice to interested parties - Proposal to add tramadol to Schedule I to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and the Schedule to the Narcotic Control Regulations Canada Gazette, Part I, 2018 Jun 16 152(24) Available: http://www.gazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/p1/2018/2018-06-16/html/notice-avis-eng.html#ne2 (accessed 2018 Jun 25)
2 Young JWS, Juurlink DN. Five things to know about Tramadol. CMAJ May 2013 185(5) Available: http://www.cmaj.ca/content/cmaj/185/8/E352.full.pdf (accessed 2018 Jul 31)
3 Canadian Institute for Health Information. Pan-Canadian Trends in the Prescribing of Opioids, 2012 to 2016. Ottawa, ON: CIHI; 2017.
4 Kahan M, Mailis-Gagnon A, Wilson L, et al. Canadian guideline for safe and effective use of opioids for chronic noncancer pain; clinical summary for family physician. Part 1: general population. Can Fam Physician November 2011 011;57:1257-66. Available: http://www.cfp.ca/content/cfp/57/11/1257.full.pdf (accessed 2018 Jul 30)
5 World Health Organization. Tramadol Update Review Report Expert Committee on Drug Dependence. Thirty-sixth Meeting Geneva, 16-20 June 2014 Available: http://www.who.int/medicines/areas/quality_safety/6_1_Update.pdf (accessed: 2018 Aug 1)
6 Juurlink DN. Why Health Canada must reclassify tramadol as an opioid. The Globe and Mail November 27, 2017
7 Flint, A., Merali, Z., and Vaccarino, F. (Eds.). (2018). Substance use in Canada: improving quality of life: substance use and aging. Ottawa, Ont: Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction. Available: http://www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/CCSA-Substance-Use-and-Aging-Report-2018-en.pdf#search=all%28aging%29 (accessed 2018 Aug 1)
8 Jin J. Risks of Codeine and Tramadol in Children. JAMA 2017;318(15):1514. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.13534 Available: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2657378 (accessed: 2018 Aug 2)
9 United States Food and Drug Administration. Codeine and Tramadol Can Cause Breathing Problems for Children. Consumer Update April 20, 2017 Available: https://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm315497.htm (accessed: 2018 Aug 14)
10 Minister of Justice. Narcotic Control Regulations C.R.C., c. 1041. Current to July 5, 2018. Last amended on May 20, 2018 Available: http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/PDF/C.R.C.,_c._1041.pdf (accessed: 2018 Aug 14)
11 Canadian Medical Association. Harms Associated with Opioids and Other Psychoactive Prescription Drugs. CMA Policy, 2015. Ottawa: The Association; 2015. Available: https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/policies/cma_policy_harms_associated_with_opioids_and_other_psychoactive_prescription_drugs_pd15-06-e.pdf (accessed: 2018 Aug 2).
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide this submission to Health Canada in response to the publication of the Notice of Intent to restrict the marketing and advertising of opioids.1 The CMA is very concerned with the high rates of overdose deaths due to opioids2 and supports a comprehensive, multi-pronged approach to address this public health crisis.3
As part of the Government of Canada's strategy, the Minister of Health's 2017 mandate letter committed to "consult with provinces, territories, and professional regulatory bodies to introduce appropriate prescribing guidelines to curb opioid misuse, ensure prescriptions are appropriately tracked in a consistent and patient-centred way, and increase transparency in the marketing and promotion of therapies."4 Health Canada is proposing to further restrict drug manufacturers' advertising of opioids and is consulting on the scope and intent of the restrictions. The Food and Drugs Act defines advertisement as "any representation by any means for the purpose of promoting, directly or indirectly, the sale of any drug or device".5
Opioids are important therapeutic tools and serve legitimate purposes, when prescribed in an appropriate manner with proper assessment, and as part of a comprehensive therapeutic strategy and monitoring. These medications have been essential in areas such as palliative and cancer care and have contributed to the alleviation of suffering.3 Any measures to address advertising must not restrict appropriate access. Limiting access without appropriate alternatives and careful tapering can lead to undue suffering and seeking of drugs, potentially tainted, on the illegal market.
However, of great concern, opioid dispensing levels have been shown to be strongly correlated with increased mortality, morbidity and treatment admissions for substance use.6,7 Many patients were prescribed these medications and developed dependence.8
Since the 1990s, opioids have been recommended for longer-term treatment of chronic non-cancer pain, and have become widely used due in part to aggressive promotion and marketing for this indication.9,10 However, there is evidence for pain relief in the short term but insufficient evidence regarding maintenance of pain relief over longer periods of time, or for improved physical function.11,12,13 There was also a concerted effort by industry to minimize the risk of addiction in the use of opioids for the treatment of chronic non-cancer pain. While stating that the risk of addiction was less than one percent, many studies have shown that the risk varies from 0 to 50% depending on the criteria used and sub population studied.14 Marketing significantly influences the type and amount of opioids consumed.15 Substantial tension exists between the competitive pressures that manufacturers face to expand product sales and support for limited, evidence-based use of most cost-effective available alternatives.16
Choices made by prescribers are subject to a number of influences, including education (undergraduate, residency and continuing); availability of useful point of care information; drug marketing and promotion; patient preferences and participation, and drug cost and coverage.17 Important contributing factors for the increase in opioid prescriptions are also the lack of supports and incentives for the treatment of complex cases, including availability and funding for treatment options for pain and addictions. Alternate approaches to pain management require more time with patients. Prescriptions also increased due to the availability of new, highly potent opioid drugs.18,19 Addressing advertising is only one component of the issue, and significant efforts need to be made to address issues such as access to alternatives for pain management and treatment of addiction.
Presently, advertising of opioids is prohibited to the public, and only permitted to health care professionals if the claims are consistent with the terms of market authorization by Health Canada. Pharmaceutical industry's marketing practices to health care practitioners "can take many forms of direct and indirect activities and incentives, including, for example, manufacturer-sponsored presentations at conferences, continuing education programs, advertisements in medical journals, and personal visits from sales representatives. It can also include use of promotional brochures, fees for research, consulting or speaking, reimbursement for travel and hospitality expenses to attend industry-sponsored events, and gifts of meals, equipment, and medical journals and texts."1 As well, industry has sponsored advocacy organizations dedicated to the treatment of pain and key opinion leaders.15,20 Studies have shown that marketing influences prescribing patterns.21
Initiatives to regulate advertising and the promotion of prescription drugs have come from industry, nongovernmental organizations and government. The pharmaceutical industry itself is voluntarily self-regulated in Canada through the Pharmaceutical Advertising Advisory Board (PAAB), pre-clearing marketing initiatives based on a Code of Advertising.22 The CMA recommends that marketing initiatives could be vetted for accuracy and truthfulness through a pre-clearance mechanism such as PAAB.
Faced with multiple legal challenges in the U.S., some opioid manufacturers have limited marketing, however, such measures had not been taken in Canada. The federal government has a complaints-based system and hasn't been proactive in the regulation and monitoring of advertising and marketing of opioids.
In recently published regulations amending the Food and Drug Regulations,23 the Minister of Health can require companies to develop and implement risk management plans, which include the preclearance of opioid-related materials to be provided to health care professionals. Product information prepared by manufacturers, summarizing scientific evidence on effects and setting out conditions for use, as well as promotional activities are subject to regulatory approval. The authority conferred to the Minister has the objective of allowing Health Canada to "appropriately monitor, quantify, characterize, and mitigate the risks associated with post-market use" of opioids. CMA supports such actions. As Van Zee has noted in the case of the United States, "modifications of the promotion and marketing of controlled drugs by the pharmaceutical industry and an enhanced capacity of the Food and Drug Administration to regulate and monitor such promotion can have a positive impact on public health".14 This approach would confer a similar benefit for Canada in that, if effective, could contribute to unbiased, evidence-based prescribing.
There are important guidelines and standards in place, developed by physicians, to guide relationships with the pharmaceutical industry. CMA's "Guidelines for Physicians in Interactions with Industry"24 were developed as a resource tool both for physicians, medical students and residents, as well as medical organizations, to support decisions as to appropriate relationships with industry, in conjunction with CMA's Code of Ethics.25 In summary, physicians have a responsibility to ensure that their interaction with the pharmaceutical industry is in keeping with their primary obligation to their patients and duties to society, and to avoid situations of conflict of interest where possible, appropriately managing these situations when necessary.
These guidelines include principles for continuing medical education and continuing professional development (CME/CPD) and are the basis for the National Standard for Support of Accredited CPD Activities, developed by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (RCPSC), the College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC) and the Collège des médecins du Québec. According to the Standard, "the interests of organizations that provide financial and in-kind support for the development of accredited CPD activities cannot be assumed to always be congruent with the goal of addressing the educational needs of the medical profession. Therefore, it is essential that the medical profession define and assume their responsibility for setting standards that will guide the development, delivery, and evaluation of accredited CPD activities."26 Physicians must complete CPD credits to maintain their professional license, and the accreditation bodies (such as CFPC, RCPSC) have processes in place to assure that these courses are evidence-based and free from industry bias.
In recognition of the importance of opioid prescribing, and the key role that physicians play in this field, the CMA recommends that the government fund certified / accredited CPDs on pain management addressing non-pharmacologic and pharmacologic options, including opioids. This funding could include unconditional contribution from the opioid manufacturers, to ensure independence. The CMA appreciates the role that Health Canada has had in funding evidence-based guidelines.27 This has been a key initiative, which sought to provide physicians with unbiased information. Ongoing funding to maintain their currency would be warranted.
The CMA supports long overdue actions related to the restriction of the marketing of opioids and looks forward to collaboration between Health Canada and the physician community.
The CMA supports Health Canada's efforts to place significant restrictions on the ability of drug manufacturers to advertise opioids to health care practitioners. Marketing initiatives should be vetted for accuracy and truthfulness through a pre-clearance mechanism.
The CMA recommends that the measures chosen to constrain advertising do not unduly restrict access to opioids for appropriate use.
The CMA recommends that the government fund certified / accredited CPDs on pain management addressing non-pharmacologic and pharmacologic options, including opioids, and consider unconditional funding from opioid manufacturers.
The CMA recommends that the government support keeping the 2017 Opioid Prescribing Guidelines current through ongoing funding.
The CMA recognizes that restricting advertising is only one, overdue, measure to address the opioid crisis, and recommends that issues such as access to alternatives for pain management and addiction treatment urgently be addressed.
1 Government of Canada. Notice of intent to restrict the marketing and advertising of opioids. Ottawa: Government of Canada; 2018. Available: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/drugs-health-products/drug-products/announcements/restrict-advertising-opioids.html (accessed 2018 Jul 17).
2 Public Health Agency of Canada. National report: apparent opioid-related deaths in Canada (released June 2018). Ottawa: Public Health Agency of Canada; 2018. Available: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/healthy-living/national-report-apparent-opioid-related-deaths-released-june-2018.html (accessed 2018 Jul 17).
3 Canadian Medical Association. Harms associated with opioids and other psychoactive prescription drugs. Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 2009. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD15-06.pdf (accessed 2018 Jul 17).
4 Trudeau J. Minister of Health mandate letter. Ottawa: Office of the Prime Minister; 2017 Oct 4. Available: https://pm.gc.ca/eng/minister-health-mandate-letter (accessed 2018 Jul 17).
5 Government of Canada. Food and Drugs Act. Ottawa: Government of Canada; 1985. Available: http://lois-laws.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/F-27/index.html (accessed 2018 Jul 17).
6 Fischer B, Jones W, Rehm J. High correlations between levels of consumption and mortality related to strong prescription opioid analgesics in British Columbia and Ontario, 2005-2009. Pharmacoepidemiol Drug Saf 2013;22(4):438-42.
7 Gomes T, Juurlink DN, Moineddin R, et al. Geographical variation in opioid prescribing and opioid-related mortality in Ontario. Healthc Q 2011;14(1):22-4.
8 Brands B, Blake J, Sproule B, et al. Prescription opioid abuse in patients presenting for methadone maintenance treatment. Drug Alcohol Depend 2004;73(2):199-207.
9 Manchikanti L, Atluri S, Hansen H, et al. Opioids in chronic noncancer pain: have we reached a boiling point yet? Pain Physician 2014;17(1):E1-10.
10 Dhalla IA, Persaud N, Juurlink DN. Facing up to the prescription opioid crisis. BMJ 2011;343:d5142 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.d5142.
11 Franklin GM. Opioids for chronic noncancer pain. A position paper of the American Academy of Neurology. Neurology 2014;83:1277-84.
12 Chou R, Ballantyne JC, Fanciullo GJ, et al. Research gaps on use of opioids for chronic noncancer pain: Findings from a review of the evidence for an American Pain Society and American Academy of Pain Medicine clinical practice guideline. J Pain 2009;10:147-59.
13 Noble M, Treadwell JR, Tregear SJ, et al. Long-term opioid management for chronic noncancer pain. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2010;(1):CD006605.
14 Van Zee A. The promotion and marketing of OxyContin: Commercial triumph, public health tragedy. Am J Public Health 2009;99:221-27.
15 Hamunen K, Paakkari P, Kalso E. Trends in opioid consumption in the Nordic countries 2002-2006. Eur J Pain 2009;13:954-962.
16 Alves TL, Lexchin J, Mintzes B. Medicines information and the regulation of the promotion of pharmaceuticals. Sci Eng Ethics 2018:1-26.
17 Canadian Medical Association. Optimal prescribing. Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 2011. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD11-01.pdf (accessed 2018 Jul 17).
18 Fischer B, Goldman B, Rehm J, et al. Non-medical use of prescription opioids and public health in Canada. Can J Public Health 2008;99(3):182-4.
19 Fischer B, Keates A, Buhringer G, et al. Non-medical use of prescription opioids and prescription opioid-related harms: why so markedly higher in North America compared to the rest of the world? Addiction 2013;109:177-81.
20 Dyer O. OxyContin maker stops marketing opioids, as report details payments to advocacy groups. BMJ 2018;360:k791.
21 Katz D, Caplan AL, Merz JF. All gifts large and small: toward an understanding of the ethics of pharmaceutical industry gift-giving. Am J Bioethics 2003;3(3):39-46.
22 Pharmaceutical Advertising Advisory Board. PAAB Code. Ottawa: PAAB; 2018. Available: http://code.paab.ca/ (accessed 2018 Jul 17).
23 Regulations Amending the Food and Drug Regulations (Opioids), SOR/2018-77. Canada Gazette, Part II 2018 May 2;152(9). Available: http://gazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/p2/2018/2018-05-02/html/sor-dors77-eng.html (accessed 2018 Jul 17).
24 Canadian Medical Association. Guidelines for physicians in interactions with industry. Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 2007. Available: http://policybase.cma.ca/dbtw-wpd/Policypdf/PD08-01.pdf (accessed 2018 Jul 17).
25 Canadian Medical Association. CMA Code of Ethics (Update 2004). Ottawa: Canadian Medical Association; 2004. Available: https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/advocacy/policy-research/CMA_Policy_Code_of_ethics_of_the_Canadian_Medical_Association_Update_2004_PD04-06-e.pdf (accessed 2018 Jul 17).
26 Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. National standard for support of accredited CPD activities. Ottawa: Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada; 2017. Available: http://www.royalcollege.ca/rcsite/cpd/providers/tools-resources-accredited-cpd-providers/national-standard-accredited-cpd-activities-e (accessed 2018 Jul 17).
27 Busse JW, Craigie S, Juurlink DN, et al. Guideline for opioid therapy and chronic noncancer pain. CMAJ 2017;189:E659-66.
Submission to the Health Canada consultation on the potential risks, benefits and impacts of changes to the regulations to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act that would require all products containing codeine to be sold by prescription only
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to provide this submission in response to Health Canada's notice as published in the Canada Gazette, Part I1 for interested stakeholders to provide comments on the potential risks, benefits, and impacts of changes to the regulations to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act that would require all products containing codeine to be sold by prescription only.
Codeine is a widely used narcotic analgesic in Canada - low dose formulations are currently sold without a prescription, when in combination with at least two other medications. It is not available for self-selection, but kept behind the counter in pharmacies.
However, serious concerns have been raised about the safety of this practice in recent years.2,3,4 A literature review examining over the counter medicine abuse in several countries found that "there is a recognized problem internationally involving a range of medicines and potential harms," including codeine-based medicines.5
Doctors support patients in the management of acute and chronic pain, as well as addictions, and as such we have long been concerned about the harms associated with opioid use, including codeine. Codeine is considered to be "a poor analgesic in its own right," for which there are more suitable alternatives.6 In addition, genetic factors can substantially affect the metabolism of codeine into morphine, resulting in concentrations that vary from person to person. This can lead to potentially serious consequences, even at conventional doses, particularly in children.2
Codeine has the potential for dependence. Studies show an increase in non-therapeutic use of codeine, including over the counter formulations, leading to increases in morbidity and mortality as well as social costs. 7,8,9 An Australian study noted that "codeine-related deaths (with and without other drug toxicity) are increasing as the consumption of codeine-based products increases."10 Ontario data shows that over 500 people began methadone treatment for non-prescription codeine, between 2011 and 2014.3
In addition, over the counter codeine is often combined with acetaminophen or ASA, which also present concerns in terms of toxicity, particularly in higher doses.
A review of the process examining the problems related to codeine-based over the counter formulations in Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom found that each of their respective committees had decided, based on the existing evidence, "to minimize harm by using regulatory levers to restrict availability."11 Many European countries have also implemented a prescription-only status for products containing codeine, as well as some U.S. States. Some Canadian hospitals have removed codeine from their formularies, and Manitoba ended the over the counter sales last year12.
Given this reality and, as part of the CMA's advocacy to reduce the harms related to opioid use, the CMA supports the requirement that all products containing codeine be sold by prescription only, as this is both a public health and a patient safety issue.
Moving codeine to prescription-only will enable limiting its use and closer monitoring of patients with the view of preventing harms.10 A challenge for policy makers and prescribers is to ensure patients still have access to treatments that are appropriate for their clinical conditions.13
At the same time, we recognize that there could be unintended consequences when moving low-dose codeine to prescription-only status, particularly for those who have come to depend on its availability over-the-counter. Some may choose to seek out illicit markets for these products or purchase other, more powerful, narcotics as a substitute. Authorities must develop educational tools to inform people about less-harmful pain-relief options. As well, a reasonable timeframe for implementation of this measure should be given to allow for patients to find appropriate alternatives.
The CMA continues to urge governments to increase access to services and treatment options for addiction and pain management, as well as harm reduction.14
1 Controlled Drugs and Substances Act: Notice to interested parties - Non-prescription availability of low-dose codeine products. Canada Gazette Part I. 2017 Sep 09, 151(36). Available: http://www.gazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/p1/2017/2017-09-09/html/notice-avis-eng.php#ne3 (accessed 2017 Nov 07).
2 MacDonald N, MacLeod SM. Has the time come to phase out codeine? Can Med Assoc J 2010;182(17):1825. Available: https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.101411 (accessed 2017 Nov 07).
3 Yang J, Zlomislic D. Star investigation: Canada's invisible codeine problem. The Toronto Star. Jan. 17, 2015. Available: https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2015/01/17/star-investigation-canadas-invisible-codeine-problem.html (accessed: 2017 Nov 7).
4 MacKinnon, JIJ. Tighter regulations needed for over-the-counter codeine in Canada. Can Pharm J Rev Pharm Can, 2016;149(6):322-4. Available: http://www.cmaj.ca/content/182/17/1825 (accessed 2017 Nov 07).
5 Cooper RJ. Over-the-counter medicine abuse - a review of the literature. J Subst Use, 2013 Apr;18(2):82-107. Available: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3603170/pdf/JSU-18-82.pdf (accessed: 2017 Oct 23).
6 Vagg M. Four reasons why codeine should not be sold without a prescription. The Conversation. Apr. 30, 2015. Available: http://theconversation.com/four-reasons-why-codeine-should-not-be-sold-without-prescription-41025 (accessed: 2017 Oct 23).
7 Nielsen S, Cameron J, Pahoki S . Over the counter codeine dependence final report 2010. Victoria: Turning Point, 2010. Available: http://atdc.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/OTC_CODEINE_REPORT.pdf (accessed 2017 Nov 07).
8 Fischer B, Ialomiteanu A, Boak A, et al. Prevalence and key covariates of non-medical prescription opioid use among the general secondary student and adult populations in Ontario, Canada. Drug Alcohol Rev 2013;32(3):276-87.
9 Compton WM, Volkow ND. Major increases in opioid analgesic abuse in the United States: concerns and strategies. Drug Alcohol Depend 2006 Feb 01;81(2):103-7.
10Roxburgh A. et. al. Trends and characteristics of accidental and intentional codeine overdose deaths in Australia. Med J Aust 2015; 203(7): 299
11 Tobin CL, Dobbin M, McAvoy B. Regulatory responses to over-the-counter codeine analgesic misuse in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. N Z J Public Health 2013 Oct. 37(5): 483-488. Available: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1753-6405.12099/abstract (accessed: 2017 Nov 7).
12 Zlomislic, D. & Yang, J. The Toronto Star. Jan 12, 2016. Available: https://www.thestar.com/life/health_wellness/2016/01/13/manitoba-sets-new-rule-limiting-codeine.html (accessed: 2017 Nov 7).
13 Canadian Medical Association. Opening Statement addressing the opioid crisis to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health. Ottawa: The Association; 2016 Oct. Available: https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/advocacy/submissions/hesa-opioid-study-opening-remarks-oct-18-2016-e.pdf (accessed: 2017 Nov 7).
14 Canadian Medical Association. Harms Associated with Opioids and Other Psychoactive Prescription Drugs. CMA Policy, 2015. Ottawa: The Association; 2015. Available: https://www.cma.ca/Assets/assets-library/document/en/policies/cma_policy_harms_associated_with_opioids_and_other_psychoactive_prescription_drugs_pd15-06-e.pdf (accessed: 2017 Nov 7).