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Canada's health minister says she won't block generic form of abused painkiller

November 19, 2012 » Ottawa

Canada's health minister says she won't block generic form of abused painkiller

By Sharon Kirkey
November 19, 2012

OTTAWA - Canada's health minister says she will not stop generic versions of the prescription painkiller OxyContin, one of the most abused drugs in modern medicine, from coming on the market, saying politicians should not "pick and choose which drugs get approved."

Leona Aglukkaq says that the federal Food and Drugs Act does not allow the federal health minister to withhold approval for a drug purely out of fears of abuse and "where the drug is otherwise considered safe and effective for its recommended use."

"I want to be crystal clear: I do not believe that politicians should pick and choose which drugs get approved," Aglukkaq says in a letter to provincial health ministers released to the media Monday. "While intentions may be noble in this circumstance, what stops future politicians from caving in to public pressure and allowing unproven, unsafe drugs on the market once political pressure starts to mount?"

Led by Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews, the provinces have urged Aglukkaq to delay the introduction of generic OxyContin when the patent expires next week.

Earlier this year, Purdue Pharma Canada - the company that developed OxyContin - began phasing out the drug once known as "hillbilly heroin" for its ability to produce a heroin-like hit when snorted or injected, replacing it with OxyNEO, a reformulated version that its maker says is harder to crush or liquefy.

Aglukkaq said banning a generic version of one drug "would do little" to solve the problem of drug abuse, noting that there are nearly 100 approved drugs already on the market in the same class as OxyContin.

She suggested media reports in which Matthews has said the "streets would be flooded" with generic versions of Oxycontin are alarmist. "With respect, that could only occur if the provinces and territories, and the medical professions they regulate, let it happen."

Generic forms of the painkiller would still be available by prescription only, she said. "If the country is "flooded with prescription drugs, it can only be in part because some medical professionals are making it possible."

She also said a panel of experts has found "insufficient proof" to back up claims that the reformulated OxyContin is harder to abuse.

She said Health Canada is imposing new conditions on companies distributing generic versions of OxyContin. Companies will be required to report "suspicious and unusual activities," including sudden surges in sales.

Aglukkaq said she has heard "heartfelt pleas from doctors and patients who speak to the positive impact it has had in treating chronic pain."

"And I have heard heartbreaking stories of abuse and addiction destroying the lives of individuals and families."

But she said a drug approval process "based on politics is a recipe for disaster."

Related articles

Health ministers request ban on generic OxyContin as patent expiry date looms (news.nationalpost.com)

OxyContin patent expiry poses tough choice for Ottawa (cbc.ca)

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