Leo Glavine column
I am all for finding ways to make prescription drugs cheaper for Canadians. There are a lot of problems with the world of big pharmaceutical companies and generic drugs can do a lot to alleviate financial strain on Canadians, but this month, I find myself supporting a pharmaceutical patent.
Health Minister Leona Aglakkaq has decided that generic Oxycontin will become available for use in Canada. There are many drugs that should be cheaper and more accessible, but Oxycontin is not one of them. It is known on the street as Hillbilly Heroin. The drug’s own maker, Perdue Pharma, pulled Oxycontin from sale last year, introducing instead OxyNEO, a version of the drug that is supposed to be much more difficult to abuse.
It did so because of rampant abuse of the drug, which is supposed to be available only by prescription. In reality, however, this drug, and many other narcotics, is quickly becoming the street drug of choice. There were a rash of Oxycontin deaths in Glace Bay a few years ago, and here in the Annapolis Valley, we have a growing problem with prescription narcotic abuse. Oxycontin in not necessarily the biggest problem here, hydromorphone and oxycodone being more prevalent, but if the drug became easier to get, it could be.
The problem with prescription drug abuse in Nova Scotia is big, bigger than many care to believe, and it is growing. The Nova Scotia Prescription Monitoring Program annual report shows that the number of narcotics prescribed in this province has grown from 578,325 in 2008-2009 in under four years to 747,227, an increase of 30 per cent. The number of multiple prescriber notifications, that means those people who went to one doctor for a narcotics prescription and then went to another doctor for the same drug, has doubled. There are massive increases in the number of requests from police officers and other professionals to see patient profiles, generally only done when abuse is suspected.
This NDP government does not have a good record on protecting citizens from this kind of abuse. It proudly points to the narcotics monitoring program as a step forward, yet the Auditor General has issued a scathing report pointing out significant defects in the program and how it has been enforced. Nova Scotians aren’t in 30 per cent more pain than they were four years ago. The system is letting people fraudulently access these drugs and sell them on the street, which is why the issue of letting cheaper generic versions of Oxycontin onto the market is simply fanning the flame.
Even with his weak stance on prescription drug abuse, the NDP Health Minister has joined all the other provincial and territorial health ministers in asking the federal government to intervene and uphold the Oxycontin patent, therefore keeping generic versions off the market. The introduction of OxyNEO is not a perfect solution. There are some doubts as to how effective it will be in preventing abuse. The pills are supposed to be more difficult to crush, making it harder to snort or inject, but there isn’t much evidence at this point whether it’s working. OxyNEO is, however, a step in the right direction. Something has to be done to protect ourselves from these highly addictive drugs - an addiction, I might add, that often starts with a legitimate medical complaint and a real prescription.
We need a lot more done to stop this increasing problem of prescription narcotic abuse. The NDP government did not even respond to Kentville Police Chief Mark Mander’s request for help for more than a year. They have shown little commitment to making real change. We cannot allow this one small step (removal of Oxycontin) to be reversed. Governments at all levels need to work with doctors to do more to reduce the number of overdose deaths and the burden of addiction to prescription drugs. The Glace Bay community has spoken loud and clear: “No generic Oxycontin in Nova Scotia” – and we need to do the same. Minister Wilson - you can keep it off the Nova Scotia formulary.