This is the first story in a four-part series about the pharmaceutical industry and the hold it has on Canada’s health-care system — swaying doctors’ opinions, funding medical schools and, ultimately, affecting the type of drugs we are prescribed.
July 29th, 2019
[Excerpts] Steve Angst’s 11-year opioid addiction started with a workplace injury.
Angst was working at a Cami Automotive assembly plant in Ontario when he injured his right shoulder in 1991. The 56-year-old, then 28, needed reconstructive surgery.
After working on his shoulder, doctors prescribed Demerol to help with the pain. A few years later, in 1993, Angst needed more surgery to repair damage resulting from a fall. Then in 1996, he needed another operation on his left shoulder.
He went to his doctor for the pain — working at the plant required repetitive motion — and was prescribed Percocet. From there, his troubles with opioids got out of control.
“I got to the point where I couldn’t do anything unless I took a Percocet,” he said.
“And then, of course, the Percocet didn’t work anymore, so I go to the doctor and they just prescribe more Percocet.”
As his body built up a tolerance to the drugs, they became less and less effective for his pain. Back at his doctor’s office, Angst was prescribed OxyContin to help with his discomfort.
“It was, ‘Well, you’re on the Percocet, so we’ll give you some OxyContin that you can take with the Percocet,’” he recalled his doctor saying.
He was told OxyContin was a slow-release medicine that was safe. Angst said his doctor said the opioid wasn’t addictive, either.
In 2018, 3.7 million Canadians aged 15 and older used an opioid pain medication, recent government data shows. According to Health Canada, between 2015 and 2016, one out of every seven people in Ontario filled an opioid prescription. This means that more than nine million opioid prescriptions were filled in the province during that period. These prescriptions can include codeine after wisdom tooth removal, for example, or hydromorphone for ongoing pain.
Statistics Canada also found that around one in 10 Canadians who used an opioid medication reported problematic use — and it’s costing lives.