SAULT STE. MARIE - The rising number of Ontarians — and particularly northeastern Ontario residents — filling prescriptions for opioids is painful, especially given the degree of awareness of opioid-related deaths and the prevalence of addiction, suggests a Health Quality Ontario report released Wednesday.

“9 Million Prescriptions: What we know about the growing use of prescription opioids in Ontario” says nine million prescriptions for opioids were filled in Ontario in 2015/16, up by nearly 450,000 from three years earlier.

“I think it is very concerning,” Dr. Joshua Tepper, Health Quality Ontario CEO, told The Sault Star in an interview from Toronto.

Although northeastern Ontario shows a “very similar pattern” with the rest of the province for some indicators, such as gender in terms of those filling prescriptions, the region — broken down across the province by Local Health Integration Networks — is dogged by considerably higher numbers of both people filling opioid prescriptions and opioid prescriptions being filled.

For example, in the northeast in 2015/16, 17 per 100 people filled an opioid prescription, second in Ontario only to Erie St. Clair, which recorded 18 per 100 people. Toronto Central was the lowest at 11 per 100 people. The overall provincial number was 14.

The northeast topped the chart in terms of the number of opioid prescriptions filled, listing 110 prescriptions per 100 people. Central was the lowest at 36 per 100 people and the provincial number was 66.

Tepper suggested a host of possible factors for the region’s showing.

Underlying health and health issues are “certainly” contributing factors, he said. Studies have consistently pegged this region, and Algoma, as one of the most unhealthy in Ontario.

Algoma Public Health figures released in 2016 indicated 19.1 per cent of the population is over 65 compared to 12% for Ontario, with 23.6 per cent having high blood pressure, compared to 17.6 per cent for the province. Also, 28.2 per cent of the population has arthritis, compared to 17.2 per cent for the rest of Ontario and 9.7 per cent has diabetes, compared to 6.6 per cent provincially. Unhealthy lifestyle choice also play a role, studies have suggested. 

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