OxyContin off the market

OxyContin has been a versatile drug for addicts. They can grind it, liquefy it, then shoot it up or snort it. Its replacement won't be as user friendly. OxyNeo will replace the opiate called Oxycontin Thursday, a move many have encouraged Purdue Pharma Canada to take. But what will happen to those addicts who will lose their supply line in three short days? Today, we're examining the difficult and unintended consequences of an addictive prescription drug's demise.

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OxyContin off the market - Deputy Chief, Nishnawbe Aski Nation

Colleen McCreeyr is a nurse who's spent the last year treating OxyContin addicts at a high school in Thunder Bay, Ontario. And like many people in her line of work, she is deeply, deeply worried about what's going to happen on Thursday. That's when the supply of OxyContin pills will start to dwindle. The company that makes OxyContin will stop shipping the drug and replace it with a form that should be more difficult to abuse. That's great news for people who have spent nearly a decade warning of the dangers of OxyContin. But now, people such as Colleen McCreer worry they're about to be faced with a health crisis as thousands of addicts go into withdrawal.

Colleen McCreery has been helping run a pilot program at the Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School in Thunder Bay. The idea is to get addicted students through a detox program while still at school. Funding for the pilot project at the Dennis Franklin Cromarty High School is set to expire at the end of March, though the school hopes it will be extended.

There are 40 students at the school of 1000 or so getting help managing withdrawal. But across the country, thousands of other OxyContin addicts will likely be going cold turkey. Addiction is an especially acute problem in First Nation communities. Mike Metatawabin is the Deputy Chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, representing 49 First Nations communities. He thinks there are about 10,000 OxyContin addicts living on native reserves across Northern Ontario. Mike Metatawabin was in Timmins, Ontario.

Well, we asked Health Canada for its reaction to this story, and it replied with the following statement:

It is important to note that First Nations clients already approved for OxyContin coverage will continue to have access to OxyNeo. There is little concern of withdrawal for clients switching from OxyContin to OxyNeo when taken as prescribed by a doctor. It is possible that some clients who obtained OxyContin through other sources may go into withdrawal if it becomes harder to get.

Health Canada continues to work with its partners to ensure that primary care supports are in place for short term stabilization and monitoring. These are in addition to provincially-funded detox facilities. These services are supplemented by community-based addictions services.

The makers of OxyContin, Purdue Pharma Canada turned down our request for an interview. They gave us this statement by Randy Steffan, Vice President, Corporate Affairs:

Purdue Canada chose to develop OxyNEO in an effort to help discourage misuse and abuse of the medication. OxyNEO tablets provide the pain relief of OxyContin; they have been hardened to reduce the risk of being broken, crushed or chewed. The tablets also become gel-like when in contact with water.

Prescription drug abuse is a complex societal problem. Purdue Canada does not claim that OxyNEO will prevent all tampering for the purpose of drug diversion, misuse and abuse. However, it is a step in the right direction and it is in accordance with Health Canada's recommendation for manufacturers to introduce new opioids that are less crushable and less abusable.

OxyContin off the market - Mother advocating discontinuing OxyContin

Last week, the provinces of Saskatchewan, Ontario and Nova Scotia announced that they will be restricting their funding for OxyNeo -- the new form of OxyContin -- through their provincial drug plans, essentially delisting it for some.

New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador already restrict funding for the drugs. Manitoba has yet to decide whether it will do the same. Alberta has no plans to limit funding.

Linda Gardiner has been arguing for more restrictions on OxyContin since 2004, when her son Chad took his own life after he became addicted to OxyContin. Linda Gardiner was in Calgary.

In December, Ontario Superior Court will hear arguments to decide whether a class-action lawsuit can proceed against the drug's manufacturer, Purdue Pharma.

This segment was produced by St. John's Network Producer, Marie Wadden and Hassan Santur.

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