A study into skyrocketing opioid deaths have found painkillers are responsible for one in eight deaths among young adults in Ontario, even as new data from the United States suggests generic oxycodone – which Ottawa approved over the objections of both premiers and addiction experts – is being smuggled south across the border, reaching as far as New Mexico.
Updated numbers Global News has obtained from Ontario’s coroner’s office indicate just how tricky this epidemic is to tackle: After Ontario cracked down on OxyContin’s ostensibly tamper-resistant replacement, OxyNEO, the number of people being killed by its active ingredient, oxycodone, has dropped – but the total number of Ontarians being killed by opioids annually continues to rise, reaching the historic high of 582 in 2012.
This is thanks in large part to spikes in deaths caused by codeine, fentanyl, heroin, morphine and hydromorphone – in other words, almost every other potent, addictive opioid (interestingly, the number of methadone-related deaths dipped slightly). Hydromorphone is the active ingredient in Hydromorph Contin, a drug made by OxyContin/OxyNEO manufacturer Purdue. Hydromorph Contin is more potent than OxyNEO, just as addictive, easier to abuse and more easily available in Ontario.
These death trends are reflected in Ontario’s publicly funded prescription figures, as well. While numbers for OxyContin/OxyNEO have dropped off the radar entirely, prescriptions for Hydromorph Contin skyrocketed.
After Global News first published these figures, Ontario’s then-Health Minister Deb Matthews said her department’s reviewing the entire class of narcotics. We’ve asked for an update from her successor, Eric Hoskins, and will post it as soon as we’ve received one.
In the meantime, federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose has asked for feedback on a proposal to require an as-yet-unspecified group of narcotics be tamper-resistant. While many addictions specialists say this is a good idea, they argue it won’t halt overprescribing, addiction or death due to these painkillers.