(NaturalNews) With addictive painkiller OxyContin being phased out in Canada, health experts are calling for a national strategy to confront prescription painkiller abuse.
OxyContin is the most well known form of the narcotic painkiller oxycodone (technically, oxycodone hydrochloride). Like other opioid drugs such as morphine and heroin, oxycodone has high addictive potential. Although OxyContin is designed to foil potential addicts by releasing its active ingredient slowly over time, abusers have taken to chewing the pills or crushing and then smoking, snorting, or even mixing them with water and then injecting them. As with many narcotic drugs, withdrawal from oxycodone can be potent, making addiction even more of a difficult trap to escape.
Even aside from the risks of addiction, oxycodone can dangerously impair judgment and attention, and may be lethal if mixed with alcohol.
Oxycodone is marketed under a variety of names, including Dazidox, Endocodone, ETH-Oxydose, M-Oxy, Oxyfast, OxyIR, Percolone, Roxicodone and Supeudol. It can also be purchased combined with other painkillers, under names such as Endocet, Oxycocet and Percocet.
Due to high rates of abuse, the Canadian government ordered an end to OxyContin manufacture in Canada. In response, Purdue Pharma has unveiled a substitute drug, OxyNeo. The new pill is designed to be hard to crush, and turns into a thick, uninjectable gel when added to liquid.
"Having received a notice of compliance from Health Canada in August 2011, OxyNEO will be replacing OxyContin on the Canadian market," Purdue said.
Each Canadian province must now decide whether to cover OxyNeo under its public insurance plan. Most recently, Ontario decided that current OxyContin patients will continue to receive the drug for only one more month, up until April 2 at the latest. At that point, they will be eligible to receive OxyNeo for up to a year. After a year, all patients must receive approval from the Exceptional Access Program to keep taking the drug.
Addiction experts welcomed Ontario's decision and called for a nationwide strategy to combat narcotic painkiller abuse.
More restrictive funding of OxyContin and OxyNeo is a "very positive thing overall," said Irfan Dhalla of Toronto's St. Michael's Hospital, whose research has shown that insurance funding of OxyContin in 2000 corresponded with a rapid increase in opioid-related deaths. "[It's] not going to solve the problem by itself, but it's a major step forward."
Benedikt Fischer of Simon Fraser University noted that Ontario's new measures might be sabotaged if other provinces do not follow suit.
"Let's say in Manitoba or in Quebec, the restrictions aren't there, there's a much higher supply and there's a great black market demand in Ontario, it's quite possible the stuff will come in from the neighboring provinces," Fischer said. "It's one reason why approaches to those kinds of measures in Canada should really be harmonized across the board."
Some provinces have chosen not to fund OxyNeo at all, while others remain undecided.
Fischer also warned that the problem of narcotic abuse is bigger than any one drug.
"One thing that's for sure is that those people who have dependence will not suddenly be cured of their dependence because of OxyContin disappearing," he said. "Those people who have dependence or are inclined to abuse will continue to do so, they will just have to adapt to the situation."
Abuse of prescription drugs has been a growing problem in recent years, as prescription drugs have become easier for many people to obtain than street drugs. A review of nearly 170,000 autopsies conducted in Florida in 2007 showed that prescription drugs caused three times as many deaths as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines combined.