Federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose should pay close attention to her provincial counterparts' warnings on the risks of allowing the current generic forms of the drug OxyContin into Canada. Ottawa approved the generic forms over the protests of the health ministers, who charge they are too easily abused. The U.S. has banned them.
The highly addictive drug is a potent painkiller, the chief ingredient of which is oxycodone. It is favoured on the streets and on First Nations reserves because of the high it delivers when it is chewed, or crushed and injected or snorted. OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma replaced the brand with OxyNeo, which is tougher to tamper with.
Ms. Ambrose gave hope earlier this year that Canada would follow the U.S. decision. But her department recently approved another generic, made by Indian manufacturer Ranbaxy. Ms. Ambrose says prescribing guidelines are stricter, but critics are doubting it will make a difference. Once a drug is approved for use, physicians are free to prescribe. In Manitoba, where the government has refused to approve generic forms of oxycodone for Pharmacare coverage, 4,047 prescriptions for oxycodone generic drugs were filled in 2012/13.
Native leaders are sceptical that banning generic forms will cut abuse on reserves, some of which see dramatically high levels of prescription painkiller addictions.
The idea is not to ban a useful painkiller, but to ensure it is less likely to feed a habit. Banning the generic pills that are easily crushed can push manufacturers to make a more tamper-proof product. Ms. Ambrose should re-think her policy on oxycodone generics.