Helping to understand prescription drug abuse

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Helping to address prescription drug abuse A new CIHI program to improve pan-Canadian data

According to the Partnership for a Drug-Free Canada, 450,000 Canadian children have taken prescription medications not prescribed to them. And many of these drugs come not from the street but from the medicine cabinet.

We know these harms place a substantial burden on the health care, social services and public safety systems. Physicians, pharmacists, other health care providers and law enforcement authorities have identified prescription drug abuse (PDA) as a growing concern in Canada. Yet a limited amount of national comparable information exists. This is where CIHI steps in.

Earlier this year, Health Canada announced CIHI’s role in the development of a coordinated national approach to the monitoring and surveillance of PDA in Canada. With almost $4.3 million in funding over 5 years, CIHI will work with governments and key stakeholders in the area of mental health and addictions to improve the collection of pan-Canadian PDA data.

Heading up the new program at CIHI is manager Paul Sajan. “We’re currently engaging stakeholders to better understand their information needs and to determine the gaps in PDA data in Canada.” The PDA community has welcomed CIHI into this space, given the organization’s expertise in data standards and public reporting. “Many stakeholders will benefit from this work,” says Sajan, “from federal/provincial/territorial policy-makers and program managers to researchers and advocates in mental health and addictions.” Other partners in the PDA work are new to CIHI, such as law enforcement, coroners and medical examiners.

Data standards and data development                                   

The first order of business is to develop pan-Canadian standards with coroners and medical examiners. Sajan explained that there is a need to improve the consistency in reporting of drug-related deaths across Canada. CIHI has begun this dialogue with key experts in the field.

Public reporting

The team also is reviewing CIHI’s existing data holdings to identify PDA-related information — such as emergency visits or hospitalizations due to overdose — which it will report on publicly. “We will look for linkages in CIHI’s data in addition to collaborating with external organizations on data collection and reporting.”

Knowledge exchange and capacity-building

“We need to ensure that any products we create — analyses, infographics or data tables — inform decision-makers and the addictions community,” says Sajan. “We look forward to working with the many dedicated individuals and organizations who are making a difference in the lives of Canadians.”