Generic Oxycontin a poor idea

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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.

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Glace Bay, Canada Annapolis Valley Kentville

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  • streetRx
    December 19, 2012 - 11:37

    streetrx.com/Canada gathers anonymously submitted data on the street price of prescription drugs such as oxycodone. We hope this information will help elucidate the black-market effects of drug reformulations and repackagings, such as the new generic OxyContin in Canada. Harm reduction is the ultimate goal.

  • caperbad
    December 10, 2012 - 15:22

    i have been a chronic pain patient since 2000,when they changed from oxycontin to oxyneo in feb 2012 my quality of life fell apart,oxyneo does not work for pain and it caused me a lot of problems blood pressure,rashes etc, people who are complaining about oxycontin should try living 1 day in my shoes , i know controls have to be in place but don;t forget us the chronic pain patient we have to keep on living life as best as we can

  • Chris K
    December 01, 2012 - 20:53

    I am quite upset about the above article. Perdue Pharma pulled Oxycontin off the shelves and replaced it with OxyNeo because they did not want to lose the billion dollar handle of the patent. Perdue knew that its patent on Oxycontin was coming to expiry, so they very sneakily made a deal with the government to pull Oxycontin from its manufacturing and replace it with Oxyneo, in which they were able to renew another 20 year patent on, thus continuing its monopoly on the drug. Perdue stopping the manufacturing of Oxycontin had absolutely nothing to do with the safety of the public; it was simply a tactic to continue to make billions of dollars . As well, have you even spoken to the hundreds of thousands of Canadians that suffer with chronic pain? Oxyneo was made with an illegal substance called BHT. its the substance that makes the pill gel up. This ingredient has been proven to cause cancer and now the thousands of Canadians that are already sick and taking this medication are now further impeding their health. Oxyneo also causes intense gastrointestinal issues and does not work like the original formula leaving pain patients in duress, bed ridden and unable to take part in life with the rest of society. Why have you not written articles about the massive increase in Heroin and Fentanyl abuse,(drugs that are 100 times stronger and made in basements by addicts) after the phase out of Oxycontin. Banning one individual drug will not have any impact on drug abuse and addiction in Canada, and our health minister and government finally made a proper decision by approving generic Oxycontin so Canada's sick have access to drugs that increase their quality of life, increase what little monetary savings they may have left and aid in their overall health. Did you also know that there are over 100 other narcotic drugs available through prescription that are much more potent and just as abusable than Oxycontin? Why pin point one individual medication?