Nova Scotia

Maritime provinces won't fund OxyContin or replacement

The Maritime provinces will no longer fund the controversial painkiller OxyContin or its replacement, which has some people questioning what will be done to fill the gap.

The Maritime provinces will no longer fund the controversial painkiller OxyContin or its replacement, which has some people questioning what will be done to fill the gap.

Purdue Pharma Canada announced Tuesday it will stop manufacturing the drug in Canada next month and replace it with a new formulation called OxyNEO, which will be harder to crush and forms a gel when added to liquid, making it more difficult to prepare for snorting or injection.

Effective March 1, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and P.E.I. will not have OxyContin or OxyNEO on their respective provincial formularies.

Meanwhile, OxyNEO will be severely restricted and will only be covered for patients with existing prescriptions for OxyContin.

"We know that prescription painkillers like OxyContin and its replacement OxyNEO are extremely addictive," Nova Scotia's Health Minister Maureen MacDonald said in a release.

"Abuse of these types of prescription drugs is a problem here in Nova Scotia and across Canada, so we're making them less accessible."

The fight against OxyContin addiction and street trafficking of the opiate drug helped force the restrictions.

"We will grandparent in people who are already receiving OxyContin so they will be able to continue to get the OxyNEO replacement; however, no new prescriptions," said MacDonald.

In rare cases, doctors can apply to prescribe OxyNEO, but that must be approved by the Department of Health, she said.

It can only be used as a last-resort drug for cancer patients.

In New Brunswick, the health department will not be approving new authorization requests for OxyContin or OxyNEO.

Could affect patient care

Saint John family doctor Michael Simon said the decision to eliminate the medication from the Maritime drug plans could affect patient care.

Although he doesn't usually prescribe OxyContin for his patients, the drug is effective at offering relief to people suffering from severe pain, he said.

"It will certainly affect those patients who take it legitimately, those patients who have a legitimate need for pain control for whatever reason," said Simon.

"The good side is that there are other drugs out there that hopefully everyone can be switched to, and these drugs hopefully will not be causing the same social problems as the OxyContin is right now."

The New Brunswick government contends there are other options available for managing pain and that restricting access will help keep it off the streets.

More methadone programs needed

But Julie Dingwell, who sits on the advisory committee for the Saint John methadone clinic, is worried about other problems in the future.

"If you're going to be drying up these drugs, and making drugs that aren't injectable, well then for all of the injection drug users … we have to make spots available in methadone programs and treatment programs so that people aren't left high and dry," she said.

Methadone is a synthetic opioid used in the treatment of opioid addicts and existing programs already have long waiting lists.

In P.E.I., Charlottetown's Mount Herbert addiction centre admits more people into its detox unit for problems with OxyContin and other opioid prescription drugs than for any other substance, including alcohol, according to officials.

"It's not necessarily going to solve the problem," said Dr. John Clark, Nova Scotia's leading pain expert. "Addiction is a disease, it's not something a person does because they want to," said Clark, adding that the change came as a surprise to him.

"At present, I am unclear as to exactly what is going to happen, we haven't had any notification of this," he said.

The Nova Scotia government said it's prepared to deal with any addicts who wish to take the change as an opportunity to seek treatment.