Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Finding a fix

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Manitoba has a problem with OxyContin addiction and the system appears unable to meet the demand for help from addicts that will rise as the painkiller in its current form vanishes from the market. The drug's manufacturer, Purdue Pharmaceuticals, this month replaced it with a new form that frustrates attempts to misuse it.

OxyContin addiction has long been recognized as a problem for its addictive properties and the fact it was easily accessed for so long -- as a prescription drug of choice for those in chronic pain, it became a street drug, producing a high when snorted or injected. OxyNEO, Purdue's new form of oxycodone, is difficult to tamper with. It cannot be crushed easily and turns to a gel when liquid is added, which thwarts the extraction of oxycodone for injection.

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The efforts made recently, including restricting the purposes for which it can be prescribed, are laudable as they attempt to prevent addictions. But the popularity of the drug on the streets, and on Manitoba's First Nations reserves, has many predicting addicts will turn to harder drugs (heroin) or suffer the severe effects of withdrawal, which can be dangerous.

Manitoba does not have the resources to deal with a surge of addicts seeking treatment. There are a limited number of beds for treatment and for good care for addicts undergoing withdrawal. Waiting lists already exist. Further, these are not programs easily accessed by Manitobans living in remote and rural communities. Yet those communities, particularly reserves with rudimentary health-care facilities, may be hardest hit when addicts become desperate for a fix. Health Minister Theresa Oswald should be telling health authorities to co-ordinate their resources so OxyContin's sudden disappearance from the market does not leave victims with no recourse for help.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 8, 2012 A10

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