‘Compassionate care’: How a Canadian hospital addresses opioids

Written by by Fatih Dagmara in Istanbul

Ottawa has long been one of the most progressive countries in Europe when it comes to health policy. It’s no wonder, then, that it has been one of the leading global cities for the fight against the opioid crisis.

There, the Royal Ottawa Hospital (ROCH) has led the way for 15 years with “Smart Medicine: Opioid Crisis and Our Compassionate Response,” a comprehensive public health initiative based on a commitment to putting human connection first.

In the fight against the opioid crisis, (where it feels the city is succeeding according to many observers), the ROCH is developing an innovative practice called “chemical response,” a highly effective, creative and respectful injection-to-cocaine connection protocol. It differs from current practices in which motor skills are affected by several pain medications being mixed in syringes. Chemical response aims to restore good motor skills to patients by giving them safely introduced drugs of their choice.

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What is most impressive about the ROCH’s approach is the way the institution integrates all elements of medical, public health and community action. The hospital’s 300-odd physicians and other health professionals consider themselves to be a resource for all who come into contact with the opioid crisis.

For a better understanding of Ottawa’s perspective on opioid use, I spoke recently with ROCH emergency physician Haris Kohoglu, who told me that the ROCH feels that the Canadian city is clearly addressing opioid use in a way that is most meaningful to people who are addicted, while also freeing them from addiction. (And in the short term, addicts can achieve a higher quality of life with fewer side effects.)

“Compassionate care needs to be a part of the health care system,” he said. “Nowadays there are so many human connections. It can’t be just a medical approach.”

Another ROCH physician, Marc Dullo, said one of the central values of his practice is taking care of people’s feelings instead of prescribing drugs just because they have pain. And, again, that could not be further from the way drugs are now administered in many hospitals in countries that have grappled with the opioid crisis.

Ottawa is following the example of other cities such as London, Portland, Ore., and Perth, Australia, to develop more compassionate ways to tackle the opioid crisis. And according to Roxanne McKay, who runs the massive health services project at ROCH, she feels that the model is representative of the global fight against the opioid crisis.

Read: A look at how British cities are tackling the opioid crisis

“We are pioneering a pioneering system, together with the Ontario provincial government,” she said. “And as a hospital, we have the opportunity to provide that care in a way that is most humane. And we’re using our knowledge to develop an evidence-based practice. This community working could be something the entire public health sector could follow.”

Ottawa’s ROCH is leading the way, even if other cities are still waiting for a better role for health institutions.

We all need to treat our pain. But we should focus on how to use painkillers wisely and with compassion.

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