Identifying Causal Factors may Guide Future Policy and Prescribing Decisions

In a first-of-its-kind review of existing research, a team from the Biomedical Ethics Unit in the Faculty of Medicine at McGill University has sought to identify the causal factors behind the dramatic increase in deaths due to prescribed painkillers in the US and Canada, currently ranked #1 and #2 in per capita opioid consumption. The findings point to a complicated “epidemic” in which physicians, users, the health care system, and the social environment all play a role.

The McGill team found evidence for at least 17 different determinants of increasing opioid-related mortality, mainly, dramatically increased prescription and sales of opioids; increased use of strong, long-acting opioids like Oxycontin and methadone; combined use of opioids and other (licit and illicit) drugs and alcohol; and social and demographic factors. The findings may assist clinicians and policy makers in devising strategies to reduce future mortality. The results of this research are published in the American Journal of Public Health. Read a news story, with link to the journal abstract, here.

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