Thunder Bay's police chief says a new version of a powerful painkiller would be bad news for the city.

This week the federal health minister said she would not stand in the way of manufacturers hoping to make a generic version of OxyContin.

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Thunder Bay Police Chief JP Levesque (CBC)

The original drug was pulled from pharmacy shelves last March because it was so frequently and easily abused by addicts.

Since then police chief J.P. Levesque said OxyContin robberies and other addiction-related crimes have been on the decrease.

"It was a marked improvement in terms of what we were seeing being purchased on the street and being seized by our officers," Levesque said.

But allowing a generic version of OxyContin to be manufactured "is a step backwards," he added.

"You're introducing a cheaper product that has gone back to the original that is easily crushable."

That crushability is what makes OxyContin so easy to snort or shoot up.

But the federal health minister said the prescription drug abuse problem in Canada is much bigger than one drug.

It’s not up to politicians to determine which ones should be approved for medical use,  Leona Aglukkaq said.

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The patent for OxyContin expires Nov. 25, raising the possibility of cheaper generic versions. (Canadian Press)

Society ‘suffers’ from this drug

The CEO of the Nor'West Community Health Centres in Thunder Bay disagrees, however.

"I'm a little surprised the federal government is allowing this to happen," Wendy Talbot said.

"From our perspective it is a huge problem."

Levesque added a generic version will mean a return to higher addiction — and — crime rates.

"It’s not just the use of these products, it's all the other factors that come along with it," he said.

"It's how individuals get the money to buy them illegally. It's not just buying in some cases, there are robberies," he added. "I think it's really unfortunate — and not just for the city of Thunder Bay but the outlying areas — we're going to see some real issues with it."

Levesque said the addiction rate in northwestern Ontario is the highest in Canada and the move to manufacture generic OxyContin "isn't going to help that."

And that’s something Talbot said she worries about too.

"We struggle as an organization to deal with the day-to-day fallout of people addicted to this drug," she said.

"It has a huge impact on individuals and families and I think society at large suffers from this particular drug because it's very easy to get addicted to this drug. And once you are on this drug it's incredibly difficult to get off it."