Canadian police, doctors and public health officials are warning the “streets would be flooded” with cheap generic versions of oxycodone if Canada’s Health Minister doesn’t reconsider her decision not to ban them.
Drug maker Purdue Pharma’s patent on OxyContin, the brand name of oxycodone, expires on November 25. Purdue stopped selling OxyContin in Canada several months ago, introducing a new formulation called OxyNeo that is harder for drug abusers to snort or inject.
OxyContin is a powerful opioid painkiller that has long been blamed for an epidemic of addiction and abuse in Canada. OxyContin is sold on the black market throughout Canada and on some tribal reservations over half the adult population is addicted to opioids. Health officials fear that generic versions of oxycodone will not be as tamper-resistant as OxyNeo, causing a new wave of abuse.
“I recognize that pain is a serious issue, and I am committed to working with patients and providers to better integrate pain management into our health-care system,” Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews wrote in a letter to health officials in other provinces and territories. “But we simply do not need easily abused long-acting oxycodone drugs to achieve better care.”
Matthews is trying to pressure Canadian Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq to reverse her decision not block generic oxycodone from coming to market once Purdue Pharma’s patent expires.
Aglukkaq said federal laws don’t allow regulators to ban a drug deemed safe and effective for some patients, simply because others might abuse it.
“I do not believe that politicians should pick and choose which drugs get approved. While intentions may be noble in this circumstance, what stops future politicians from caving into public pressure and allowing unproven, unsafe drugs on the market once political pressure starts to mount? A drug approval process based on politics is a recipe for disaster,” Aglukkaq wrote in a letter this week to provincial and territorial health officials.
Aglukkaq has also questioned draft rules proposed by Matthews that would give her the authority not to reimburse doctors or pharmacies in Ontario who don’t track potential misuse and diversion of prescription narcotics such as oxycodone. Aglukkaq said the regulations proposed by Matthews should also be applicable to OxyNeo.
“Considering there is no proof to date that OxyNeo is actually tamper-resistant, I assume her regulations will apply equally to OxyNeo as well,” Aglukkaq said. “Otherwise, she would appear to be playing favorites to one drug company, which I’m sure is an impression that she would not want to give.”
Rather than ban generic versions of oxycodone, Health Canada is imposing tough new conditions on the licenses of manufacturers and distributors. Drug makers will be required to report spikes in sales and changes in distribution patterns. If evidence of abuse or diversion is found, the licenses could be suspended or revoked.