British Columbians are getting the life-saving medications they need regardless of their postal codes but cultural background, income, lifestyle and urban-rural differences may influence their use of other “discretionary” drugs, according to the latest BC Rx Atlas released today by the UBC Centre for Health Services and Policy Research.
The UBC study analyzed 2006 data from 79 local health areas in B.C. and is the first to measure variations at this level.
“Differences in drug use and spending among provinces have been well established, but we wanted to determine whether there are disparities across regions within the same health care system,” says lead author Steve Morgan, who also authored a previous Canadian Rx Atlas.
“Though we found considerable variations in the use of many types of medicine, we were somewhat encouraged to find that the use of potentially life-saving drugs – such as treatments for high blood pressure – varied least significantly,” says Morgan, associate director of the Centre and an associate professor in the UBC School of Population and Public Health.
“The findings show that access to the most essential types of prescription drug does not vary too greatly within B.C.”
Researchers found the most significant variations in “discretionary” drugs such as anti-depressants and drugs for erectile dysfunction. They also documented troubling patterns in the use of potentially addictive drugs, including sedatives and opioid pain killers – such as morphine and oxycodone.
“Our previous Canadian Rx Atlas showed that B.C. used less of these medicines than other provinces, but this new study suggests that British Columbians in smaller towns are at greater risk of inappropriate use, possibly addiction,” says Morgan.
Key patterns of prescription drug use across B.C. lead the authors to conclude that cultural background and socio-economic status are important determinants of drug use and spending patterns.
British Columbians in or around the metropolitan Vancouver area spent less on anti-depressants and opioids than the rest of B.C., particularly in South Vancouver, Richmond and Burnaby where there are high populations of immigrants from Asia. Meanwhile, residents in affluent areas spent more on drugs not covered by BC PharmaCare or private insurance, the study shows.
Overall, British Columbians spent a lot less than other provinces on most drug categories.
Other findings include:
- Baby boomers now account for as much drug spending as the elderly, partly due to the large population in the 50-59 age range.
- The highest spending drug categories are those for managing cardiovascular risks, depression and ulcers.
- Antibiotics are the most commonly used prescription drug in BC, with one in three residents having filled a prescription, followed by hypertension drugs at one in four.
In 2008, Canadians spent more than $25.1 billion on prescription drugs outside of hospitals and $1.5 billion on medicines used within hospitals, more than the total spending on services provided by medical doctors, at $22.7 billion.
For a copy of the BC Rx Atlas, visit www.chspr.ubc.ca/rxatlas/bc/2009.
The UBC Centre for Health Services and Policy Research (CHSPR) is an independent research centre within the UBC School of Population and Public Health in the Faculty of Medicine. The Centre is committed to making lasting advances to population health and health services in Canada as leaders of independent, policy relevant research, graduate training and data resources. For more information, www.chspr.ubc.ca.