June 16, 2014 5:45 pm

Health Minister considers requiring some drugs be ‘tamper-resistant’

Federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose is floating a regulation that would require some drugs to be tamper-resistant.

Global News

Federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose is considering requiring certain prescription drugs be tamper-resistant – and she wants to know what you think.

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Prescription drug abuse has become Canada’s fastest-growing addiction, especially in Ontario, where opioids prescribed by doctors kill more than 500 people a year - twice the number of drivers killed in car accidents. And even after OxyContin was phased out and its successor drug faced a provincial crackdown, Ontario’s prescriptions and deaths for other potent, addictive, easily abused opioids continued to climb.

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Ambrose is seeking feedback on a regulatory proposal that would require certain as-yet-unspecified drugs to “have tamper-resistant properties in order for activities with these substances, such as sale, to be authorized in Canada.”

The proposed regulation would set out criteria for tamper-resistance these drugs would have to meet in order for them to be sold here (they’d also have to meet all the usual requirements of “safety, efficacy and quality”).

The idea behind making a drug tamper-resistant is that it’s tougher to crush, snort or inject to get a more powerful high: Crushing OxyNEO, for example, Purdue Pharmaceuticals’ replacement for notoriously abused OxyContin, yields a mushy goo rather than a powder.

But there are ways around this. And many addiction experts argue tamper resistance isn’t enough – that there need to be changes in the way these potent drugs are prescribed and monitored.

“You can make a case that any opioid should be tamper-resistant,” said doctor David Juurlink, an addictions expert at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. But “all that does is discourage the people who want to grind it up and snort or inject it.

“It’s a good idea, but it doesn’t really address the greater problem of opioid misuse and abuse. … The idea that this is going to solve the problem is specious.”

Ultimately, Juurlink said, physicians need to prescribe these potent, addictive drugs less readily and in smaller doses. This could be a matter of better education, better monitoring or the requirement that any high dosages of potent painkillers get a second physician’s approval.

Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews, who has also made combating prescription drug abuse a personal priority, has said she’s reviewing the whole class of drugs after Global News analysis revealed that her province’s single-drug crackdown on OxyContin’s replacement resulted in skyrocketing prescriptions for other, equally addictive, even more potent and easily abused drugs that are killing Ontarians in ever-greater numbers.

Ontario opioid deaths »

Ontario opioid deaths

While her predecessor Leona Aglukkaq insisted repeatedly that tackling prescription opioid abuse was a provincial issue, Ambrose has made it a personal priority of sorts.

She met Monday with several First Nations leaders to discuss the prescription drug abuse that’s decimating small, remote aboriginal communities, many of which are far from proper health care, let alone the methadone clinics or rehabilitation facilities needed to treat these addictions.

“The addition of tamper resistant properties to drugs at a high risk for abuse could potentially help mitigate prescription abuse, while ensuring that they remain available for patients who really need them,” Ambrose  said in a statement.

“The Government will continue to work in collaboration with all Canadians to advance our common goal of tackling prescription drug abuse.”

Ontario opioid prescriptions »

Ontario opioid prescriptions

READ: Notice of Intent regarding proposed tamper-resistant regulation

To send feedback on the proposal, email tamper.resistance@hc-sc.gc.ca.

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