Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq has written the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ask if the two countries can work together to address abuse of the powerful painkiller oxycodone. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The federal health minister has written the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ask if the two countries can work together to address the abuse of the powerful painkiller oxycodone, also known by the brand name OxyContin.

In the letter, Leona Aglukkaq, writes, "I propose our officials work together to develop joint evidence-based guidance on abuse deterrence that could be used on both sides of the border."

In particular, sources in Aglukkaq's office say she is hoping to clearly define, with the FDA, whether or not a drug is "tamper-resistant" or "tamper-proof."

OxyContin was pulled from the market by its maker, Purdue Pharma, last year over cocerns about abuse of the drug and replaced with a new pill called OxyNEO. The new drug has a different coating that makes it harder to crush. The old pill could be crushed simply by chewing it, releasing a powerful, morphine-like high.

People who work with addicts say OxyNeo isn't tamper-proof, but it is more difficult to abuse.

Generic version approved

Last fall, Ottawa faced a lot of pressure from some provincial health ministers and police associations arguing against allowing drug companies to manufacture generic versions of the original OxyContin pill.

But Ottawa did say yes to half a dozen generic drug companies, stating the drug is needed by patients with chronic pain.

In her letter to the FDA, Aglukkaq said she's looking to balance the importance of allowing access to effective pain medication with the need to mitigate the risk of diversion and abuse.

"As neighbours, we have a shared responsibility to require appropriate controls in our respective jurisdictions, for the health and safety of our communities and also to reduce risks of cross-border trafficking," Aglukkaq wrote.

The letter was sent to Gil Kerlikowske, from the Office of National Drug Policy, and Dr. Margaret Hamburg, the commissioner with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.