The government of Canada is taking strong measures to stem the tide of OxyContin abuse. At the end of this month, the pharmaceutical company that produces OxyContin will no longer be allowed to manufacture and market the drug in Canada. Under government pressure, Purdue Pharma Canada is replacing OxyContin with a new formulation called OxyNEO. According to Purdue, the design of OxyNEO will make it more difficult to abuse.
OxyContin is a time-released version of oxycodone, a highly addictive opioid painkiller. It has been described by drug experts as being twice as strong as morphine. When the time-released pills are crushed and injected or inhaled or chewed, OxyContin produces a high that has been compared to heroin. While OxyNEO will still contain oxycodone, Purdue claims that it will be harder to crush and will form a thick get that resists injection when added to liquid.
Entire Communities Impacted
The media in Canada has recently focused on the plight of First Nations native people living on impoverished reserves in the Canadian province of Ontario. Since 2009, dozens of small remote First Nations communities have been in a state of emergency due to widespread OxyContin addiction. Some communities report addiction rates as high as 70 percent. The problem crosses age barriers, with children as young as 11 affected.
Mike Metatawabin, a First Nations Deputy Chief, estimates that at least 10,000 people living on First Nation reserves are addicted to OxyContin. Most addicts are not getting the drug through legal prescriptions but instead are participating in a widespread OxyContin black market that reaches across Canada.
Some Canadian health officials are predicting a public health catastrophe when OxyContin is no longer available. Many of the remote communities in northern Ontario have no access to drug detox and recovery programs and some OxyContin addicts may turn to illicit drugs like heroin, crack and cocaine to satisfy their craving for the drug. Increased needle sharing will increase the risk of transmission of infectious diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C. There could also be an increase in violent crime as the supply of OxyContin dwindles and black-market prices increase.
Officials from Health Canada, the government agency responsible for national public health, have responded to concerns about OxyContin withdrawal by stating that people who have legitimate prescriptions will be able to transition to OxyNEO. However, in a recently released statement Health Canada expressed concern for individuals who have obtained and used OxyContin for non-medical purposes, Doctors in Ontario are calling upon the Canadian government to respond to the threat of widespread OxyContin withdrawal as if it were an epidemic and provides emergency treatment services. According to Dr. Claudette Chase, a family doctor in northern Ontario, the lack of OxyContin could turn out to be the catalyst that many people need to recover from their addiction – if the right kind of support is available.