Mr. Speaker, as is my custom, I would like to change the subject a little in order to direct the listener toward possible solutions and other paths that have yet to be explored.
This emergency debate is a good opportunity to shed some light on the real impact that pharmaceutical products have on our society. The deprivation resulting in part from this chance occurrence has brought some issues related to addiction and social vulnerability into the open. Such exposure adds to the environment of fear fed by the government's anticipated cuts on the delivery of services to the public.
Now, I would like to say that I hope that the current drug shortage will make Canadians more aware of drug addiction and prescription drug and substance abuse. In fact, this problem is generally condemned, and I think that now is the right time to address this type of problem.
Overmedication is a significant problem in Canada. In addition to having serious consequences for the physical and mental health of patients, it is also very harmful to the health care system. Hospital admissions due to drug reactions or interactions are very expensive, not to mention the cost of the drugs themselves.
One member of Parliament told me that psychiatric care would surely suffer as a result of this drug shortage. In my practice—I am a lawyer, specifically a criminal lawyer—I was responsible for hundreds of cases involving confinement to institutions, and it seems that the drug shortage will affect anxiolytics, antidepressants and anticonvulsants. This is a problem right now, and I wanted to mention it. It is psychiatric patients who will be the most affected by this drug shortage.
On another note, oddly enough, the breakdown in the pharmaceutical supply cycle coincides with recent discoveries about the true impact of narcotics addiction on our country's aboriginal communities. According to the figures released to the Canadian public over the past few weeks, the rate of addiction to OxyContin, a prescription pain killer, was up to almost 70% in remote communities. I am referring to the information in the media about the community of Cat Lake, where the community leaders reported this rate of addiction. Obviously, I hope that it is 70% of adults who are addicted to this drug. I did not look into the subject any further but it has been mentioned in the House before and it came to my attention. I wanted to mention it.
This high proportion should be considered only from the viewpoint of the government’s tendency to blind delegation and its refusal to manage, follow up and administer prescription drugs to certain restricted social units, which are, in addition, very well insured.
I shall return momentarily to these restricted units, and I will also talk about the promiscuous nature of life in the communities, that is, the extreme crowding these people experience. I shall also talk about the coverage enjoyed by the aboriginal citizens of our country.
What is provided to Canada’s first nations under Health Canada’s non-insured health benefits program covers a wide range of prescription drugs, including restricted drugs, the so-called downers and uppers. People in my home community take a lot of these drugs, and do not always respect the recommended dosage or prescriptions.
I want to talk a little about my community. We have a clinic back home called Uauitshitun Santé et Services sociaux. The health services also manage the social services, which include child and family services. And in even more remote areas, these health services are also asked to determine the proper dosages to give patients and to manage prescription drugs.
As I said, aboriginals benefit from very generous coverage for all kinds of drugs.
In many cases, the people receiving these prescriptions are elderly. In many cases, their prescriptions are misused by family members. I will discuss that in more detail shortly.
The overmedication of target groups—aboriginal communities and elderly individuals in those communities—justifies a review of health care priorities as defined by the nation's decision-makers.
There is an institutionalized tendency to direct patients with a variety of symptoms toward treatments that rely heavily on the use of modern pharmaceuticals. Far be it from me to suggest that the pharmaceutical industry promotes the use of prescriptions for aboriginal patients. However, that argument has been brought to my attention. It is a valid hypothesis. There is a lot of suffering in my home community and in other Innu communities. Doctors are often powerless to alleviate human suffering. Some might be tempted to overmedicate an individual with problems that resemble depression. More thorough testing might reveal that the problems can be treated with holistic measures and without the thoughtless administration of pharmaceutical products.
I want to come back to the crowding in communities. I said that seniors are most often users of opiates, including OxyContin. I would not say that this is a widespread phenomenon, but seniors' drugs will sometimes be stolen. Some people are well aware of the effect of downers and will arrange to steal drugs meant for seniors. Social services could confirm this problem, which is condemned. Ultimately, the senior is missing several tablets at the end of the week. Young people or the people who steal a drug grind it into a powder to snort it. The drug can also be injected, but most of the time it is snorted. People will steal drugs, regardless of the dosage. All they want is to get high or come down.
The current shortage associated with Sandoz and its impact on addicts clearly illustrate the problems that can result from a sudden disruption in the supply of targeted drugs in the country. An expert from Simon Fraser University recently talked about the impact such a shortage can have on Canada's social fabric and the certain involvement of organized crime cells. The increase in the black market price of targeted drugs such as uppers and downers—including opiates—will lead to a marked increase in criminal activity connected with trafficking.
Finally, let us hope that this crisis situation will prompt Canadians to re-evaluate their relationships with pharmaceutical products, because sometimes abundance can lead to abuse.