Comparison of Crude Population-Level Indicators of Opioid Use and Related Harm in New Zealand and Ontario (Canada)
Pain and Therapy
North America and select other Commonwealth jurisdictions have been experiencing unprecedented opioid epidemics characterized by excessive and persistently high levels of opioid misuse, morbidity and mortality, and related disease burden. Recent discussions have considered whether New Zealand might undergo or needs to expect a similar 'opioid crisis'. Towards further informing these considerations, we examine and compare essential, publicly available indicators of opioid utilization and harms
... ortality) from New Zealand and the Canadian province of Ontario, due to the fact that both operate public health care systems in similar socio-cultural settings. We find that the two jurisdictions have featured vastly different population levels of opioid exposure, opioid consumption patterns (e.g., high-dose/long-term/high-risk prescribing) known as key predictors of adverse outcomes, and levels of opioid mortality as evidenced by concrete epidemiological indicators and data. Specifically for opioid-related death rates, these were already approximately threefold higher in Ontario compared to New Zealand based on most recent comparison data (e.g., 2012); these differentials have likely further grown more recently given major and distinct changes in population-level opioid exposure and risks, and subsequent opioid-related deaths since then in Ontario. Based on the present data and related evidence, New Zealand does not seem to need to anticipate an opioid mortality epidemic similar to that experienced in North America; however, it would be of interest to establish more comprehensive and timely surveillance of key system-level indicators of opioid use and harms as are standard in North America. As such, this inter-jurisdictional comparison makes for a case study in starkly contrasting scenarios of opioid use and harms, the drivers behind which deserve further systematic examination.