Health Minister Elizabeth Marshall says government will act immediately on several of the recommendations of its OxyContin task force.

The government will require tamper-proof prescription pads, launch educational programs, and start work on a methadone program.

Thornier issues, though, will be studied before action is taken.

These include changing the provincial Medical Act to allow sharing of records between the health-care and law-enforcement systems.

The task's force final report, which contains 50 recommendations, was released Tuesday.

  • External site: Final report of the OxyContin Task Force (PDF)
  • Government struck a task force last December to study OxyContin, the potent and highly addictive painkiller which has been linked to at least seven deaths in the province.

    Other recommendations include:

  • hiring more addictions counsellors;
  • setting up a needle exchange program;
  • improving services available to addicts;
  • changing the school curriculum to warn children of the hazards of OxyContin and other narcotics.
  • Among the toughest issues facing the government is how to crack down on individuals obtaining OxyContin for non-medical use, and the physicians who have been prescribing it inappropriately.

    Task force chair Beverley Clarke says the intent is to halt criminal activity, and that patient information would only be shared in particular circumstances.

    "There certainly would be stringent criteria in terms of any release of information," says Clarke.

    The task force report will likely lead to change in how powerful narcotics like OxyContin are prescribed.

  • From May 10: OxyContin group wants doctors' rules tightened
  • The task force found that prescriptions of the drug in Newfoundland and Labrador alone jumped from 3,841 in 2001 to 10,744 in 2003, or a 280 per cent increase in just two years.

    Police have linked OxyContin abuse to a reported jump in crime in the St. John's area, particularly involving armed robberies and break-and-enters.

    Treatment concerns

    Maureen Harvey, the mother of an OxyContin addict, said the task force's recommendations should have included a call for treatment for those who need to be checked into a clinic to become well.

    "Without having an in-house treatment close by, it makes life more difficult, particularly for the caregivers of the individuals who are going through treatment," she says.

    The task force found that outpatient methods of treatment are more successful, although some individuals require round-the-clock treatment.