Health Canada should delay approval of generic OxyContin, health ministers say

HALIFAX – Provincial health ministers are calling on Ottawa to delay the approval of a generic form of OxyContin.

David Wilson, Nova Scotia’s health minister, announced Thursday that provincial and territorial ministers unanimously agreed to ask for the delay until further research is done on the highly addictive drug.

The ministers are meeting in Halifax this week, and their federal counterpart, Leona Aglukkaq, is expected to join them Friday.

Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews says the pain-relief drug – whether it’s in brand-name or generic form – is too addictive, too easy to tamper with and is causing particularly “devastating” consequences in First Nations communities.

“It’s rampant,” she said in an interview. “Some (native communities) have declared a state of emergency.”

She said there are alternatives to OxyContin that can’t be easily ground up and turned into powders or liquids for illicit use.

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Though the drug is still legal in Canada, Ontario and other provinces and territories no longer fund it. Manufacturer Purdue Pharma is now marketing OxyNeo as a replacement that is more difficult to tamper with, said Matthews.

She said she doesn’t want to see a return of OxyContin to the streets of her province in a generic form.

“It’s urgently important that (Ottawa) at the very least delay consideration until we have more research that shows the impact,” she said.

OxyContin was introduced in 1995 by Purdue Pharma and was designed to manage pain with a formula that released one dose of oxycodone over many hours. However, abusers quickly discovered they could defeat the timed-release feature by crushing the pills.

Steve Outhouse, a spokesman for Aglukkaq, said Health Canada doesn’t normally consider the opinions of politicians when deciding whether to approve drugs.

“It’s a scientific process, and one of the things they look at when determining approving an application is whether risks outweigh the benefits,” he said.

“That includes addictions when the drug is used as prescribed. Addictions are factored into it.”

The ministers attending the meeting also called on Ottawa to consult the provinces before implementing any possible funding cuts to native and immigrant health programs.

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Wilson said Ottawa’s decision to end funding the health care of rejected refugee claimants forces the provinces to consider whether to deny care or pay for it themselves.

“There are a number of services that Ottawa was responsible for and that are being changed, and we’re left with the decision of trying out how to come up with funding to cover those programs,” he said.

Outhouse said the federal government hasn’t reduced the funding of front-line health care for natives as part of its deficit reduction measures.

As for the decision to cut funding to refugee health care, he said that only applies to refugees who have been rejected and are expected to leave the country.

Matthews said there is a pattern of Ottawa walking away from funding programs and downloading costs to the provinces.

“Each one, individually, might not look like a big cost,” she said. “But when you add them all up they are substantial, they are significant.”

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