The Regional Coroner for northwestern Ontario is warning about the risks associated with using alternatives to OxyContin.

Dr. Michael Wilson issued the caution as the result of the recent death of a patient in the region.

He said he wants to remind medical professionals about the dangers around replacing OxyContin prescriptions, as this death that may have been caused by an improper prescription.

Oxycontin is no longer manufactured in Canada. It was replaced last week by a new formulation called OxyNeo.

"Transitioning from one opiate to another does carry some risks, and this death … highlighted the case for heightened vigilance," Wilson said.

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The regional coroner for northwestern Ontario says pharmacists need to contact prescribing physicians to clarify any questionable increases in dosage. (Canadian Press)

He noted that pharmacists need to contact prescribing physicians to clarify any questionable increases in dosage — and he’s also instructed the coroners who report to him to be on alert for similar deaths.

"It is certainly anticipated that some people may find themselves on medications — either properly prescribed or obtained illicitly — and they may not be aware what their tolerance to these new medications would be," Wilson said.

Wilson said doctors have access to resources like conversion charts to help them determine the proper equivalent dose of alternatives to OxyContin.

"The various opiates that are available don't necessarily all share the same analgesic equivalents, and so the risk of a side effect or the risk of an overdose with a change to a new drug is heightened," Wilson said.

Wilson has sent his recommendation to the province's Pharmacists' Association. The Ontario Medical Association is also advising doctors to be prepared to work closely with pharmacists.

Corrections

  • An earlier headline for this story incorrectly stated that the coroner urges caution in OxyNeo prescriptions. In fact, the coroner warned about risks associated with using alternatives to OxyContin, and did not name OxyNeo specifically.
    Sep 13, 2013 6:23 AM ET