The opioid crisis is a complex national public health issue that requires a comprehensive and collaborative approach. The immense scope of the crisis, which has led to hospitalizations and numerous deaths across Canada, highlights the need for upstream engagement with health professionals.
Robert Parker with Dr. Marwah at the pain clinic discussing a template for Opioid Tapering that is available. Background: Shelly, one of the RPNs at the Chronic Pain Clinic in Regina, who works alongside Britney, an LPN (not pictured).
The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) has received funding from Health Canada of more than $2.3 million over four years for piloting an Opioid Stewardship Program that will engage health professionals, promote appropriate opioid prescribing practices and develop educational materials for practitioners. This initiative aims to raise awareness and develop new approaches to chronic pain management, which is aimed to contribute to better patient outcomes and decreased opioid hospitalizations.
“I am tremendously excited the opportunity that the Substance Use and Addictions Program (SUAP) Opioid Stewardship Grant has provided in Saskatchewan. It has allowed the original vision by myself, Dr. Michelle McCarron, and Robert Parker to bring together key personnel and resources to share the message of managing chronic pain without reliance upon opioids become a reality. This upstream approach will have an important impact in preventing addiction and tolerance to opioids in the future,” says Dr. Sarah Liskowich, physician champion for the project. “I am so inspired and encouraged by the enthusiasm of my colleagues and the Executive Leadership Team of the Saskatchewan Health Authority, in making this program become a reality and removing barriers so quickly to promote the best care for our patients.”
Research shows that the optimal prescribing of opioids for chronic non-cancer pain is close to zero (The 2017 Canadian Guideline for Opioids for Chronic Non-Cancer Pain). However, clinicians continue to prescribe opioids for pain management because they know their patients are suffering and are unaware of other options.
“Stewardship is about building capacity for our clinicians and the people of Saskatchewan,” says Robert Parker, Manager of Stewardship and Clinical Appropriateness for the SHA. “Provincial-wide engagement by all clinicians and healthcare providers, internal and external to the SHA, will help our prescribers to build care plans utilizing all available resources for those that suffer from chronic non-cancer pain. It’s about finding the right plan for our patients.”
The 36-month (January 1, 2019 to December 31, 2021) pilot is a Regina-based initiative designed to reduce inappropriate opioid prescribing through partnerships with key stakeholders. The SHA will work with primary care providers, dentists, stakeholders and other partners, providing them with objective, evidence-based information and resources when prescribing opioids. Additionally, the program will work to better utilize current/existing resources, develop necessary pain pathways and set up a successful audit and feedback system for overall clinician prescribing of opioids.
By instituting a comprehensive, evidence-informed approach to opioid prescribing and de-prescribing, the opportunity for success is much improved as engagement gives care providers the motivation, support, and education needed to make the right choice for patients. The SHA’s desire is that this pilot project will quickly move beyond the boundaries of Regina within the 36 months.
“The Opioid Stewardship Program will complement other SHA initiatives to address problematic drug use and prescribing practices in Saskatchewan,” says Gaylene Molnar, Executive Director, Clinical Standards for the SHA. “It will help build capacity within the health system to effectively address opioid addiction and develop responsible prescribing practices, ultimately reducing the rate of hospitalization for opioid poisoning and improve patient outcomes.”
If you have any questions about the program, please email
For more information about the funding provided by Health Canada please visit the Health Canada website.