Police, politicians want Health Canada to follow US lead and ban generic painkiller

Credits: DEREK RUTTAN/ The London Free Press /QMI AGENCY


TORONTO -- Organized crime will be the big winner of Canada’s new monopoly on an easy-to-abuse painkiller, a veteran Toronto police officer says.

Supt. Ron Taverner, who chairs the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police substance abuse committee, was reacting to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration decision this week to deny patent requests for generic OxyContin that don’t have a tamper-resistant casing, which would make them hard to abuse.

The powerful narcotics, sometimes known as hillbilly heroin, have sparked a growing wave of addiction in America, causing 16,000 overdose deaths a year.

But the generic pills are legal here in Canada, where federal officials gave them the thumbs-up in November. Taverner said he supports the FDA’s decision, which is based on the danger of potential abuse. But because Health Canada didn’t take a similar move, the pills will present an opportunity for criminals here, he said.

“What happens is organized crime becomes involved because it is very lucrative,” Taverner said.

The chiefs association, along with health ministers from every province and territory, asked Health Canada to reject patent applications as the FDA did. Taverner fears that because that request was rejected, abuse and crimes to get the pills will once again increase.

Taverner said those crimes were on the decline since Purdue Pharma, the company that developed OxyContin, released a new formulation of the pill with a tamper-resistant casing last year.

“The robberies in pharmacies have decreased since OxyNEO was introduced,” he said. “When these generic pills go (back) on the market I think we’ll see robberies and break and enters go up.”

Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews said that Health Canada should follow the FDA’s example and reverse its generic Oxy approval.

“I think it is time to reconsider, even if the FDA didn’t make that decision,” Matthews said. “But I think the FDA ruling makes it a reason for Health Canada to take another look.”

Matthews said while generic OxyContin helps many people who are legitimately ill, its efficacy can’t be the only measure used to keep it on the market.

“When we have a drug like OxyContin that we know was being very seriously abused and there is an alternative available, not as easy to abuse, OxyNeo form, then I really do believe very strongly that

Health Canada should take a more holistic view of the situation.”

Health Canada spokesman Blossom Leung said the federal government has reached out to the U.S. FDA in an effort to determine “evidence-based criteria for ‘abuse-deterrence.’”

But approval of the generic pills are not based on danger of abuse but benefits to legitimate users.

“The needs of patients must be our first priority,” Leung said in an e-mail.

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