Dr. Eric Hoskins, Norman Lehman, Dr. Peter Pisters and Dr. Hance Clarke
(L to R) Dr. Eric Hoskins, Ontario Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, patient Norman Lehman, Dr. Peter Pisters, President and CEO of University Health Network, and Dr. Hance Clarke, Medical Director of the Pain Research Unit at Toronto General Hospital, meet prior to Wednesday’s announcement of a new strategy to prevent opioid addiction and overdose. (Photo: UHN)​

Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins announced at Toronto General Hospital a new and comprehensive strategy to curb opioid misuse, while boosting resources to chronic pain clinics and addiction treatments.

"Ontario's first comprehensive opioid strategy will help us to respond holistically and effectively to the opioid crisis and provide a long-term framework to stem the tide of opioid addiction and overdose," said Dr. Eric Hoskins, Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, at Wednesday's announcement.

In 2014, more than 700 people died in Ontario from opioid-related causes, a 266 per cent increase since 2002.

Minister Hoskins outlined a strategy that consists of multiple ways of preventing addictions, including investing $17 million a year in Ontario's Chronic Pain Network to create or support 17 chronic pain clinics across the province. To learn more read the Ministry press release.

One such model of innovative care for chronic pain is the TGH Transitional Pain Clinic. Created in 2014 to help monitor and wean at-risk patients off excessive amounts of opioid medications for pain, it provides support for patients and primary care physicians after hospital discharge.

The aim is to improve opioid practices in hospitals to improve patient care and safety, including identifying and monitoring at-risk patients before and after prescribing opioids.

Follow-up care for patients is provided by a diverse team of clinicians who specialize in pain control. They use a variety of methods to help and teach patients to manage their pain, including mindfulness, "exercise prescriptions" and acupuncture.​

Image of Dr. Peter Pisters and Dr. Eric Hoskins
Dr. Peter Pisters introduces Dr. Eric Hoskins, who in his announcement noted that opioid misuse is the third leading cause of accidental death in Ontario. (Photo: UHN)

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Dr. Hance Clarke, Director of the Transitional Pain Service at TGH, spoke about the staggering toll of chronic pain to patients and the healthcare system.

"It's time to move the emphasis away from the prescription pad and to other multiple pain strategies. Pain is not only physical, but also emotional."

"Identifying at-risk patients, typically those who have pre-existing pain, mental health issues, chronic use of opioids before surgery, is critical, so that we can develop follow-up plans, and educate patients and other healthcare providers," says Dr. Clarke. "We need to give patients the tools to manage their pain, should it become problematic."

In previous research published by Dr. Clarke, he estimates that about 15 per cent of complex postoperative pain patients develop moderate to severe chronic, post-surgical pain, have significant disability, and continue to use opioids for pain relief long-term.

Norman Lehman, 64, developed significant pain after he was diagnosed with cancer, and after his cancer surgery. He was referred to the TGH Transitional Pain Clinic in April 2016 to help him wean off opioids and to help him better manage his pain.

"Dr. Clarke and his team gave me back my life," says Lehman. "Their empathy, sympathy and whole mix of services changed my life."

Today, Lehman is off opioids, almost pain free and living fully. For him that means taking out his sail boat several times a week, and reading a dozen books weekly.

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