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System lets down seniors

July 10, 2013

Dear editor:

Recently, there have been several news stories highlighting the role seniors are playing in the dissemination of prescription drugs in Cumberland County. It is a troubling issue that can’t only be addressed by doctors and law enforcement. 

There has been a lot of focus on physicians and prescription patterns. There is no question that doctors have a role to play in addressing the prescription drugs issue in our province. It’s our prescriptions that end up in the wrong hands, but the recent media coverage highlights just how challenging it can be to prevent the misuse of a prescription. No doctor wants to think that a prescription they write to help someone could actually end up harming someone else. 

Every prescription written by a physician should be written with the best interests of the patient in mind. These prescriptions are used in, among other things, cancer treatment, palliative care, while waiting for a surgery, recovering from an injury, and post surgery. Issues arise when an individual is motivated to misuse the prescription. 

Through the media coverage on the issue, it appears that some seniors in Cumberland County were selling and/or trading their medication for food. As a social determinant of health, income has a major influence on an individual’s health, and the health of a community. It’s alarming to think that a senior in our province has to resort to illegal activity to cover a basic need such as food. 

As a family doctor, I’m often all too aware of the less than appropriate living situations of some of my patients. I know it can be expensive to get prescriptions filled, eat healthy, heat a home, and travel to the doctor’s office and pharmacy. All of these things affect a persons’ health.

When discussing the misuse of prescription drugs in the province, we have to do so in the context of the social determinants of health, especially income and poverty. We also need to look at and understand addiction; part of the reason that these seniors have been able to sell drugs is that there is always someone willing to buy them. Doctors and policing won’t stop the issue. We need to work collectively to address the root causes of the problem. 

We need to make sure that all members of our communities are supported, especially those most impacted by the social determinants of health.  No one should have to make the choice between using their prescription, or eating. 


Mike Fleming, BSc, MD, CCFP, FCFP