The complainant, Geoffrey Donaldson, considered reporting about an increase in publicly-funded opioid prescriptions in New Brunswick misleading. He did not agree that there is any concern in the increase. He believed that CBC coverage is conflating legitimate use and the growing number of overdoses. The story provided sufficient context to indicate how the two are related. There was no violation of policy.

COMPLAINT

You objected to a headline on a story about a rise in the number of prescriptions for opioids in New Brunswick: “Publicly funded opioid prescriptions increase, despite addiction risk.” You stated this was “misleading information” about the prescription use of this class of drugs, and that repeating the “narrative of an over-prescription crisis” is very harmful, something you have pointed out in previous correspondence. You feel that this is depriving people who genuinely need these strong painkillers, that there is no proof of a crisis, and that this view is “only substantiated by anecdote and allegation.”

You challenged CBC News’ journalistic integrity for taking at face value the interpretations of the Canadian Medical and Pharmaceutical Associations. You pointed out that the CMA is using the assertion of a crisis to propagate guidelines to limit the use of opioids to cancer patients, and not others who experience chronic pain.

You provided an alternate context for the increase in publicly-funded prescriptions in New Brunswick – that given the aging population there was growing need, and more people required public assistance to pay for the medication.

You objected to a link within this article to the fentanyl crisis:

The article provides links to other headlines about the fentanyl overdose crisis, plainly trying to connect prescription with the salacious street addict crisis where no such connection can be significantly demonstrated—despite efforts by anti-opioid crusaders to do so. With easily accessible facts available, the question remains as to why they weren’t presented or contributed to the analysis. The answer appears to be that the purpose of the article was instead to intentionally misinform readers.

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

Nancy Waugh, the Managing Editor for CBC News in Atlantic Canada, replied to your concerns.

She told you the reporter used the term “crisis” based on guidelines released this summer by the Canadian Medical Association, as well as the stated position of the professional association of pharmacists:

The Canadian Pharmacists Association also considers the present state to be a “crisis.” In July, the association urged Premiers to focus their discussions on the situation, noting 2400 deaths attributed to opioid abuse or misuse in the previous 12 months. In their final communique (found at this link:
http://www.canadaspremiers.ca/phocadownload/newsroom-2017/communique_justice_social_final.pdf) the Premiers pointed to strategies for dealing with the “crisis” or “epidemic.”

She explained the article was prompted by the publication of the number of publicly-funded opioid prescriptions which showed a 26% increase over six years. She agreed with you – this was just a partial picture as it did not account for privately-filled prescriptions. The experts in the field consulted by CBC news staff thought there was cause for concern with this state of affairs. She noted this was just one story in ongoing coverage of this public health issue.

Continue reading this on the CBC website, where it was first published.