Specialists with Nova Scotia's Prescription Monitoring Program are telling pharmacists to use a generic painkiller that is more difficult to abuse than its name brand version.
Dr. Peter MacDougall, an anesthetist and pain management specialist for the Nova Scotia Prescription Monitoring Program, says Dilaudid — the brand-name form of hydromorphone — can trigger a powerful high when it's injected with a needle.
"Dilaudid is a much easier drug to make injectable," he said. "It's easier to crush and to dissolve in a liquid, usually water. The hard-core addicts can then inject that."
Hydromorphone is a potent, opiate-based narcotic prescribed for pain.
MacDougall said one way to discourage abuse is to prescribe generic forms of the drug, which have the same effects as the pill but are harder to dissolve.
"More bothersome, less popular, probably less of the actual drug would be available to them to inject, as opposed to the more soluble form," he said.
The Nova Scotia College of Pharmacists is supporting the change.
Susan Wedlake, the registrar of the organization, said dealing with addicts can be a common occurrence for pharmacists.
"I've been in pharmacies where I've literally had guys pull down shelves in front of me because they were upset because I wouldn't fill a narcotic prescription for them," she told CBC News.
"It's pretty scary out there for pharmacists."
MacDougall said about one-quarter of the hydromorphone prescribed in Nova Scotia is the brand-name version. With co-operation from pharmacists, he hopes to see that proportion drop to nearly zero.
"If we assume that a portion of the medication would ultimately get misused, then less of it getting on the street is great news," he said.