Over the past year I’ve lost track of how many times the opioid epidemic has, in one incarnation or another (Prince, naloxone, fentanyl, newborns in agonizing withdrawal and so on) found its way onto the front page news.
A growing number of health professionals, patients, community groups and even politicians are calling for national pharmacare. But many Canadians likely wonder what pharmacare is and whether Canada is ready for it.
Employers in Canada spend an estimated 5 billion dollars a year on drug coverage for their employees. Yet, private plans are notoriously inefficient and they often cover higher priced drugs that are not necessarily better for consumers’ health, explains Alan Cassels.
There is certainly a lot of waste in health systems, but one area that seems to have escaped close scrutiny is the waste in private drug plans in Canada. To put it simply, that waste is gut-churning.
A handsome man struts over to the office water cooler with a smirk on his face. When his colleagues ask about his weekend, he replies enthusiastically, with audio muted. A large blue pill appears with the tagline, “Viagra, Ask Your Doctor.” Vibrant, energetic older people are shown swimming, bowling and having a good time. With a twinkle in their eye, they suggest the viewer “ask your doctor” about Celebrex.
Canadians pay among the highest costs per capita among OECD countries for prescription drugs, with one Canadian out of 10 unable to fill their prescriptions because of financial reasons.
In my first career as a pharmacist, I worked in more than 30 pharmacies across Nova Scotia, filling more than 100,000 prescriptions between 1990 and 1995. Some of these were for strong painkillers called opioids — drugs like morphine and oxycodone, which are chemically and biologically very similar to heroin.
“The misuse of opioids has grown exponentially with devastating consequences” – First Do No Harm: Responding to Canada’s Prescription Drug Crisis (Canadian Council on Substance Abuse, 2013).