Prescription drugs rather than heroin the drug of
choice in Canada
A new study carried in seven Canadian cities, has
revealed that prescription opioids, rather than
heroin, are the biggest form of illicit opioid
currently in use.
The study conducted by Dr. Benedikt Fischer and
colleagues at the University of Victoria has found
that heroin use has become an increasingly marginal
form of drug use among illicit opioid users in
They say their findings question current drug
control policies and treatment programs in Canada.
The research funded by the Canadian Institutes of
Health Research (CIHR) and based at the Centre for
Addictions Research (CARBC) at the University of
Victoria, found that heroin use was
substantially prevalent only in Vancouver and
It was virtually non-existent in smaller cities such
as Edmonton, Quebec City and Fredericton and in all
the study sites, there was a significant decline of
heroin use among participants between 2001 and 2005.
Opioids are commonly prescribed as pain-killers
(analgesics) such as Oxycontin, morphine, Demerol,
Percodan and Tylenol 3 or 4.
Prescription opioids are generally ground up and
then injected into the bloodstream to achieve a
Dr. Fischer says that in a large number of cases
prescription opioids used by street drug users
originated from the medical system and not from
illicit production and distribution.
The supply to addicts of such narcotic painkillers
as Demerol, Dilaudid, OxyContin and Percodan is big
business and has given rise to break-ins at doctors'
offices and pharmacies, double-doctoring (seeking
prescriptions from different doctors) and more
generalized theft to turn the proceeds of crime into
money for drugs.
Dr. Fischer says in view of the findings drug
control policies should be targeting prescription
opioid abuse more effectively, without compromising
legitimate access to and uses of prescription
Experts say the study is the first systematic
documentation of drug use patterns among street drug
users and the best to date on the issue of
prescription opioid abuse in Canada.
The multisite OPICAN cohort was established in 2001
and the results reported in this study are based
mainly on a follow-up sample of 585 participants
from the seven Canadian cities, Vancouver,
Edmonton,Toronto, Montreal, Quebec, Fredericton and
St. John, who were assessed most recently in 2005.
The study is published in the current issue of the
Canadian Medical Association Journal.