07/27/2015 12:32 EDT | Updated 07/27/2016 01:12 EDT

Oxycodone prescribing down, but deaths from opioids overall on rise: experts

TORONTO — Ontario addiction experts say reduced prescribing of oxycodone has helped cut overdose deaths from the potent narcotic, but other opioids are increasingly taking its place.

Researchers at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto say prescriptions for drugs like hydromorphone and fentanyl patches have risen since 2010 when measures to curb oxycodone use were put in place.

Yet lead researcher Benedikt Fischer says that despite a reduction in overall prescribing, deaths from opioid overdoses in Ontario continue to rise.

Oxycodone-related deaths had dropped by 30 per cent in 2013, but the number of deaths from opioids overall jumped 24 per cent between 2010 and 2013 — from 467 to 577.

Fischer says the major driver of opioid addiction and related overdose deaths is excessive prescribing — too many drugs to too many people, in too high doses.

He says public health measures are needed to curtail excessive prescribing of the potent narcotics and limit their use to people who need them, such as those experiencing severe cancer-related pain.

"We need to bring those main drivers down to make a dent in this problem," says Fischer, whose commentary written with CAMH colleagues appears in the journal Pain Physician. 


Follow @SherylUbelacker on Twitter.

Sheryl Ubelacker, The Canadian Press