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Doctor calls painkiller prescription crackdown ‘an ambush’

A Toronto-area physician is questioning the motives behind an investigation into more than 80 Ontario doctors who’ve prescribed unusually large amounts of painkillers to patients.

Dr. Angela Mailis is the founder of the Pain and Wellness Centre in Vaughan and the founder and former director of the comprehensive pain program at Toronto Western Hospital. She argues that the provincial crackdown aimed at curbing opioid abuse is making family doctors afraid to prescribe even small amounts of the narcotics, leaving too many patients suffering in pain. 

“This is a disaster for pain patients,” Mailis said in an interview Thursday with CBC News. “You can’t just curtail the supply of opioids in this draconian approach.” 

She was reacting to news Thursday that 86 doctors are under investigation after a new Ministry of Health database revealed they’ve prescribed such drugs as fentanyl and oxycodone to multiple patients in amounts that significantly exceed national guidelines.

The ministry’s new computerized narcotics monitoring system flagged the doctors for prescribing the equivalent of 650 mg of morphine per day to eight or more patients. Health Minister Eric Hoskins described this as “a pretty high level of prescribing,” comparable to 150 Tylenol 3s per day.  

The doctors’ regulatory body — the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario — is now investigating. 

“This is really an ambush,” Mailis said. “All of a sudden investigating 85 physicians is not accidental.” 

Overdose Deaths

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario is investigating 86 doctors after a new Ministry of Health database revealed they’ve prescribed such drugs as fentanyl and oxycodone to multiple patients in amounts that significantly exceed national guidelines. (Toby Talbot/Associated Press)

She acknowledges that some doctors may over-prescribe but she’s accusing the provincial authorities of fear-mongering, making family physicians reluctant to prescribe minimal amounts of painkillers.

“What I am very critical of is unleashing a storm of these investigations, creating this climate of terror,” Mailis said. 

She criticizes the government for failing to fund alternative pain-treatment methods such as psychology and rehabilitation, leaving doctors no choice but to prescribe narcotics.

Overdoses claiming 2 lives daily 

“Physicians don’t have these tools, they have only a prescription pad and an injection,” Mailis said. “If the only thing you have is a prescription pad and an injection, that is the only thing we are going to use.”

The investigations are part of Ontario’s first comprehensive strategy to tackle opioid abuse, unveiled last month.

According to data from the Office of the Chief Coroner, opioid overdoses are killing on average two people in Ontario every day, making it the province’s third-leading cause of accidental death.