New coroner’s numbers say Ontario opioid deaths are up even though Oxy’s killing fewer

Preliminary coroner’s figures suggested painkillers killed fewer Ontarians last year. Those numbers were wrong: New numbers (also preliminary) suggest prescription opioids killed more Ontarians in 2012 than ever, even as deaths caused by the biggest culprit, oxycodone, dropped following OxyContin’s phase-out. The province tightened the rules on OxyContin’s sucessor, OxyNEO, in 2012. Numbers obtained by Global News suggest prescriptions for that drug plummeted, especially after a grandfathering period ended earlier this year. But while oxycodone deaths dropped, deaths caused by almost every other opioid rose – by a lot, in some cases. So did prescriptions. The new numbers say acute opioid overdoses killed 576 Ontarians last year, up from 547 in 2011. In depth: Canada’s pill-popping problem Hydromorphone deaths jumped by more than 50 per cent, from 42 in 2011 to 64 in 2012. Prescriptions for the drug have also skyrocketed in the province, even more so in the past several months. Fentanyl, codeine and heroin are also killing more Ontarians, according to the updated figures.
It speaks to the seemingly whack-a-mole nature of opioid misuse and policy-makers’ dilemma in cracking down on myriad legal drugs that cause serious harm: Ontario’s decision not to cover generic oxycodone and to only pay for OxyNEO in exceptional circumstances appears to have worked in the narrowest sense – by lessening the use and, perhaps, the death toll of the most common prescription opioid even as every similar drug is used more and kills more people. Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews says the province is reviewing how it treats the class of drugs that includes Hydromorph Contin, which is also made by Purdue Pharmaceuticals and is even more potent than OxyContin. But applying the same rules now governing OxyNEO could be costly: If you add a drug to the Exceptional Access Program, you need the staff to review all the new requests. The federal government has come under fire for not taking more aggressive action on prescription opioid misuse. Health Minister Rona Ambrose has said she wants to make this a priority but it isn’t yet clear what that would look like.

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