More than 80 doctors in Ontario are under investigation after a new Ministry of Health database revealed they’ve prescribed unusually large amounts of opioids to patients.
The ministry’s new computerized narcotics monitoring system flagged 86 doctors who have prescribed such drugs as fentanyl and oxycodone to eight or more patients in amounts that significantly exceed national guidelines.
“The ministry detected some patterns which I would describe as unusual,” Health Minister Eric Hoskins told reporters at the Legislature on Thursday.
“We’re talking about daily doses of opioids that are equivalent to roughly 150 Tylenol 3s being consumed in a single day,” said Hoskins. ”That’s a pretty high level of prescribing.”
Ministry officials reported the doctors involved to their regulatory body — the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario — for investigation, said Hoskins.
It’s now up to the college to decide whether the physicians committed any ethical wrongdoing or whether the prescriptions were appropriate.
The college warned doctors in its most recent official publication that the health ministry has been providing it with information about physicians prescribing opioids in ways that may violate safety guidelines.
“The College will consider the accuracy of the data, and the clinical context in which the prescribing occurs, and will seek information from the prescribing physician in order to better understand and evaluate the prescribing,” writes the organization”s registrar, Dr. Rocco Gerace.
Hoskins said the level of prescribing found may be warranted for certain people, such as palliative care or cancer patients.
Opioid overdoses are killing on average two people in Ontario every day, according to data from the Office of the Chief Coroner, making it the province’s third-leading cause of accidental death.
Hoskins unveiled what he called the province’s first comprehensive strategy to tackle opioid abuse last month, including measures designed to curb over-prescribing.
On Thursday, he described the investigations into the large prescriptions as part of the new strategy.