Health and law enforcement officials from Windsor and Essex County say they’ll be ready for the implementation of a new fentanyl patch-for-patch bill approved this week by the Ontario legislature.
The program would require those who use the pain-relieving opioid to return all of their used patches to their pharmacists before a refill is delivered. Additionally, doctors who prescribe fentanyl will have to designate a single pharmacy on the prescription and notify that pharmacy the prescription will be coming.
A similar voluntary program called the Windsor and Essex County Fentanyl Exchange Program already exists. Once this bill is implemented, it will be required by physicians, pharmacists and patients.
“We’ll have a head start. We’re ahead of the curve,” said Dr. Gary Kirk, chief medical officer of health for the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit, during a Thursday news conference.
Peter Dumo, past president of the Essex County Pharmacy Association, said while not every pharmacist is already participating in the program, all approve of the idea.
“As you can imagine, disseminating this information effectively so that every single pharmacy and pharmacist is on the same page, it’s going to take a little time,” said Dumo. “Our hope is within three to six months this process will be seamless and we can start seeing an increase in diversion of fentanyl patches.”
The health unit released a report in August which stated there were 33 opioid-related deaths – of which six were due to fentanyl – in Windsor and Essex County in 2013.
Chief Al Frederick of the Windsor Police Service said there have been seven confirmed fentanyl-related deaths confirmed so far this year.
“When people abuse a drug, there’s criminal activity involved in the sale and profiteering from that drug,” he said. “From a policing perspective what we’re after is how can we help prevent some of these deaths and injuries.”
Dr. Amit Bagga, a nephrologist and vice-president of the Essex County Medical Society, said the concern is these used patches result in both intentional and unintentional use. He said sometimes a child can encounter a used patch if it is thrown in the garbage.
“That’s an unintentional scenario, but it’s an unintentional death that is preventable,” he said. “There are people that sometimes unfortunately can misuse the old patches and hence the importance of this very unique program.”
Dumo said it’s unlikely for a patient to see this program as a barrier. In fact, he said offering this program at his pharmacy has opened up discussions about the severity of fentanyl with a patient, who re-evaluated the use of the drug.
He said this new law will not be the solution to narcotic abuse, but it’s an important step to take.
“Is this going to be a perfect process? Absolutely not,” he said. “There’s going to be hiccups along the way. Patients are going to forget the card, doctors are going to forget to write which pharmacy it’s going to go to. There’s going to be a learning curve.”