Nearly three months have passed since OxyContin was withdrawn from sale in Canada and replaced by a new formulation called OxyNEO. According to drug manufacturer Purdue Pharma, OxyNEO is harder to abuse because it transforms into a gel when combined with liquid and is impossible to draw into a syringe. It is also more difficult to crush and inhale.
While it’s still early to judge the effects of this change, it appears that many Canadian addicts are attempting to adapt. On websites and in online forums, OxyContin abusers are posting recipes for breaking down OxyNEO. Health officials are discouraging these attempts since the effects of injecting the gel-like formulation are unknown.
Police in Ottawa have reported that more people are abusing fentanyl as the underground supply of OxyContin dries up. Like OxyContin and OxyNEO, Fentanyl contains oxycodone. It is prescribed to people with chronic pain or who have just undergone surgery and is about 80 times more powerful than morphine.
Native Americans and Oxycontin
What hasn’t occurred yet is the type of catastrophe that was predicted for many communities across Canada, especially among Northern Ontario’s First Nations native populations. Earlier this year there were reports that OxyContin addiction rates in some native communities were as high as 70 percent, with children as young as 11 abusing the drug.
The Ottawa Citizen reports that the number of people seeking treatment for OxyContin withdrawal has not changed significantly in Ontario. There have been reports that some drug abusers are moving on to heroin or fentanyl, but this is not yet viewed as a substantial change. Many believe that the black market supply of OxyContin is still satisfying the demand.
Canada is in the Quiet Before the OxyNEO Storm
Some health experts feel that Canada is still undergoing the calm before the storm. There also is a feeling that OxyNEO’s tamper-proof formula is providing a false sense of security. Although it is now harder to snort or inject the drug, it can still be abused through normal ingestion. Rather than using complicated processes to break down the drug for injections, many addicts may be swallowing higher doses of the drug.
Health Canada, the national healthcare agency, has stated that there is no available evidence that OxyNEO’s tamper-proof formula will make it less attractive to drug abusers than OxyContin. According to Dr. Irfan Dhalla of St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, “If you’re swallowing the tablet whole, it really won’t make any difference whether you’re swallowing OxyContin or OxyNEO.”
The OxyNEO formulation has been available in the U.S. for about two years. The American Pain Society recently reported a drop in the number of OxyContin abusers admitted for treatment. At the same time, there has been a substantial increase in the abuse of Opana, an opioid painkiller that contains oxymorphone.