News — 13 March 2012

By Chris Marchand

The Medical Officer of Health for the Northwestern Health Unit is calling residents to action on the epidemic of prescription opiate addiction in our communities.

Amidst last week’s deluge of media attention in regards to the delisting of the prescription drug Oxycontin, Dr. James Arthurs penned some reflections on the crisis from his perspective as a health professional.

“I have seen the ravages of acute and chronic pain, the consequences of unhealthy behaviour and the growing concerns of prescription drug abuse – as a pharmacist, then as a family and emergency room physician, and from within a chronic pain clinic setting,” wrote Arthurs. “OxyContin (like codeine, morphine, and heroin) is derived from opium. It is made to release pain medication over time. The problem we face is not the legal use of OxyContin for pain, but rather the misuse of it (by crushing or dissolving the pill to get the total dose all at once). This causes a “high” that can quickly lead to addiction.”

As the region’s top public health official, Arthurs says he believes the problem falls within the health unit’s mandate, particularly in the areas of substance misuse prevention and harm reduction programming.

But Arthurs says he wants the Health Unit to play a role in facilitating and coordinating community change from within, by lending support to grassroots initiatives.

“The question facing us is not what I or public health can do about this issue or what you as individuals, healthcare professionals, hospitals, small groups, or organizations can do. It is about what we working together collaboratively can do. Community engagement, partnership, and teamwork all come to mind. None of us can do it alone.”

Arthurs is calling upon residents to offer ideas and possible strategies on how to address addictions issues in our communities. You can offer your thoughts at



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About Author

Chris Marchand is a native of Dryden, Ontario. He served his first newspaper internship at The Dryden Observer in 1998 while attending journalism studies at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops B.C. He's worked desks as both reporter and editor at the Fernie Free Press as well as filled the role of sports editor at the Cranbrook Daily Townsman. Marchand was named editor of the Dryden Observer in Aug. 2009.

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