Written by Jessica Cadoch
Opioids don’t discriminate—opioid misuse affects all Canadians
On August 12, we wrote about the current opioid crisis and the uptick on opioid-related overdoses and deaths in Canada. This crisis does not discriminate against minority populations and can undoubtedly affect anyone. Indeed, a life-sentence to opioid drug dependency can start with a minor injury, followed by a doctor’s visit. This article addresses how the current medical system disproportionately provides aid to those in the throes of opiate addiction and provides an alternative to the currently available treatment options.
Although the number of Canadians using opioids decreased (from 13% of the population to 11.8% between 2015-2017), hospitalizations for opioid overdose or complications increased to about 17 admissions each day. Between 2016-2019, Canada lost 15,393 lives to the opioid crisis. These are our sisters, fathers, mothers and brothers.
While opioid misuse has affected every region of the country, western Canada (British Columbia and Alberta) and the northern territories (Yukon and Northwest Territories) have experienced the highest devastation levels. Furthermore, in the 2018 National report of the First Nations Regional Health Survey, 24.9% of adults and 10.4% of youth between the ages of 12 and 17 reported opioid-use.
The discrepancies in treatments for opioid dependency
Indeed, the opioid crisis does not discriminate against income, race, gender or cultural influences. There is an opiate out there to accommodate every socio-economic class. However, the treatments available for those seeking to maintain their dependence on opioid-maintenance programs or safe medication-assisted therapy vary from between socio-economic classes.
Medical anthropologist Helena Hansen (2012) describes how methadone clinics were created to serve Black and Latinx urban communities, while buprenorphine clinics concurrently target the growing opioid crisis in white, middle-class communities. She explicitly notes how much more effective buprenorphine is for opiate addiction treatment and discusses how those in minority populations are not receiving equally effective medications.
Compounding the problem is the lack of access to these opioid-maintenance programs during the pandemic. Nick Boyce, of the Ontario Harm Reduction Network, said the dramatic measures adopted to slow the spread of COVID-19 are limiting drug users’ access to support services that prevent overdose deaths. These types of support services are typically in place to aid those who are already at-risk: low-income, reliant on government-assistance programs, living with untreated mental health issues, and with little or no additional support from family.
Thus, those who rely most on government services – people of lower socio-economic populations who have suffered the most during this pandemic – will likely be the ones continuing to suffer long after the peak danger of COVID-19 passes.
Could psychedelic-assisted therapy present a fair, effective and democratic solution?
A recent study published in the PlosOne Journal found that people who use cannabis for therapeutic purposes are less likely to misuse opioids, adding to a growing body of evidence supporting the use of cannabis for pain as a harm reduction strategy. However, not everyone agrees with these findings and research at McMaster University has found that cannabis is not entirely effective in reducing opioid addiction.
At Entheon Biomedical, we believe that it is time to explore new approaches to managing addictive behaviours and addressing the current opioid crisis. We have found that psychedelic substances, mainly DMT, hold much more potential in successfully reducing opioid-dependence.
Our aim at Entheon Biomedical is to demonstrate the efficacy of DMT for the treatment of addiction. We hope to bring psychedelic substances to the biomedical and substance-use treatment market in the most responsible and scientifically-legitimate way.
It is necessary to address the current issue of access in the sphere of psychedelic-assisted therapy. Many important figures in the field, such as Bia Labate, have discussed the problems of privilege and access in psychedelic-assisted treatment. Once these medicines become more regulated, access to them will indeed be minimal as this approach to healing relies on many hours of psychotherapy sessions, which costs a lot of money.
At Entheon Biomedical, we are developing a DMT therapeutic protocol that is much shorter lasting and flexible than established MDMA or psilocybin-assisted therapies. This will ultimately reduce billable hours and decrease associated costs. Ultimately, we hope that these shortened sessions of psychedelic-assisted therapy can increase access to these medicines and reduce the systemic discrepancy found in opiate dependance.
Entheon is optimistic about future findings and is actively working towards addressing the issues in current treatment modalities, access to valuable medicines, and ultimately making a dent in the truly devastating crisis that the opioid epidemic has brought to our communities and families.
For more information on Canada’s current opioid crisis, you can find national data, surveillance, and research here.