Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mass withdrawal of painkiller feared

Aboriginal leaders steel for end of OxyContin

  • Print

Some aboriginal leaders are bracing for the worst after the production of OxyContin was halted two weeks ago.

Approximately one in every three residents, up to 9,000 people in an aboriginal population of 25,000 in northwestern Ontario, are addicted to the painkiller, which is also known as hillbilly heroin.

Remote aboriginal communities have some breathing room before a potential crisis begins because officials anticipated addicts built up illegal stockpiles of OxyContin after Purdue Pharma announced it would halt OxyContin production on March 1.

In Winnipeg, where OxyContin is one of a handful of street opioids, there has been an increase in calls to the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba for the last two months.

But it's impossible to tell if those calls are due to OxyContin -- city clinics have reached their capacity.

"We have two issues happening at the same time," said Dr. Lindy Lee, one of 20 physicians in Winnipeg licensed to prescribe methadone to addicts.

Addicts face three options: Tough it out through withdrawal, switch to another heroin-like street drug like Percocet, Dilaudid or codeine-based Tylenol 3, or apply for methadone treatment.

Manitoba is no different than the rest of Canada when it comes to addiction rates to prescription opioid painkillers, Lee added.

In Manitoba, the biggest opioid increase was between 2005 and 2010, as judged by the rise in the number of methadone clients in the province. Methadone client numbers leaped to 1,100 from 300.

"It was what was happening all across Canada and we were watching for it to happen in Manitoba and it did," Lee said.

No matter where addicts live, they won't be able to turn the new gel-like replacement, OxyNeo, into a powder, the same way users do with OxyContin. The new substance turns to tar if users try to heat it up to inject it and can't be ground into a powder to be snorted.

For addicts who run out of OxyContin, there will be seven days of sheer hell as they suffer through acute withdrawal.

"When people go through that, they consider suicide," said Mike Metatawabin, deputy grand chief of the Nishinawbe Aski Nation, which represents 49 northern Ontario First Nations.

"Our biggest fear is we're going to have a mass withdrawal from OxyContin," Metatawabin said.

Withdrawal is said to be so agonizing, yet there are 35 communities north of Sioux Lookout with addiction rates of 30 per cent or more that are bracing for just that.

"I've heard it's unbearable to watch. You're helpless. The person, they lose all dignity. They have no bodily control: diarrhea, vomiting, sweats, aching bones. It's excruciating pain. You can imagine the worst flu, the worst hangover. Then multiple that by 20," Metatawabin said.

The Island Lake region of northern Manitoba has close family links to northwestern Ontario First Nations and is considered to be the soft underbelly in the OxyContin trade, leaders say.

"I know it's very high in Ontario and there are some (dealers) who are trying to bring that problem into northeastern Manitoba," said David Harper, grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, which represents northern Manitoba First Nations. "The police are watching it."

OxyContin holds entire families in its grip on First Nations north of Sioux Lookout, Ont., 450 kilometres east of Winnipeg, said Metatawabin.

"Our chiefs declared a state of emergency back in 2009 once it became increasingly evident the drug was causing extreme hardship on families and to the overall well-being of the community," he said.

Street gangs from Winnipeg and Thunder Bay supply the north with OxyContin, the aboriginal leader said.

Addicts without prescriptions in the north will face withdrawal with over-the-counter relief.

"That was the only option we had available," Metatawabin said. "We're encouraging our health centres to stock up on ibuprofen and Gravol."

Federal and provincial health officials only now realize the impact of OxyContin withdrawal in aboriginal communities, he said.

"Their work is based on statistics and the patients they deal with. They don't get the full picture. They're not on the front lines," Metatawabin said.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 13, 2012 A4

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Glenn January won't blame offensive line for first loss

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS 070619 LIGHTNING ILLUMINATES AN ABANDONED GRAIN ELEVATOR IN THE VILLAGE OF SANFORD ABOUT 10PM TUESDAY NIGHT AS A LINE OF THUNDERSTORMS PASSED NEAR WINNIPEG JUST TO THE NORTH OF THIS  SITE.
  • PHIL.HOSSACK@FREEPRESS.MB.CA 100527-Winnipeg Free Press THe Provencher Foot Bridge is lit up

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Should the city grant mosquito buffer zones for medical reasons only?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google