Government asked to boost generic OxyContin supplies

The federal government is being asked to intervene to end shortages of generic versions of the controversial painkiller OxyContin.

Brand-name oxycodone was pulled off the market in 2012

These prescription pills contain the opioid painkiller oxycodone. Only three of six generic drug manufacturers licensed to produce the drug still do. (Graeme Roy/Canadian Press)

The federal government must intervene to end shortages of generic versions of the addictive painkiller OxyContin, says a Toronto man who relies on the drug.

Small business owner Jim Burke has written Federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose to complain that the government is too focused on addiction and not focused enough on the needs of Canadians like himself who depend on the opioid drug oxycodone.

Burke, who runs a direct mail company, has suffered chronic phantom limb pain since having his right leg amputated above the knee following a car accident.

"Out of all the medications I've been trying since I've been 20 years of age, OxyContin was the only one that really worked for me effectively," he said.

"That allows me to run my business, enjoy my kids, get out on a daily basis."

Purdue Pharma stopped making OxyContin, its branded version of the drug oxycodone, in March 2012, over concerns it was being abused by drug addicts. It now makes a different formulation called OxyNeo that is harder to abuse.

The following November when the patent on the drug expired, Health Canada made the controversial decision to allow generic drug manufacturers to make their own versions, despite concerns from provincial health ministers about the potential abuse of the drug.

But now only three of six companies approved to make oxycodone still do, and two — Apotex and Actavis — are out of stock at the moment, the Canadian Generic Pharmaceutical Association has confirmed.

Burke said he was relieved when the federal government allowed the generic manufacture of the drug, until he found that he couldn't always get his prescription filled due to constant oxycodone shortages.

"There's some anxiety that goes along with that," he said. That's particularly the case if he's about to travel and needs his prescription filled ahead of his trip.

Concerns over addiction

Burke suspects that concerns over addiction may be why the federal government hasn't acted to relieve the drug shortages.

"I'm a business owner," he added. "I'm fully active in the community... and I feel like I'm getting lumped into the same category as drug addicts."

According to Health Canada, the amount of oxycodone lost or stolen was down 66 per cent in 2013 compared to the year before.

But pharmacist Mark Barnes said despite that statistic, oxycodone is still available on the street. The only way for governments to deal with addiction, he said, is to provide more funding for treatment: "You'll never stop the flow and use of narcotics with any policy."

Jeff Connell, vice president of corporate affairs for the Canadian Generic Pharmaceutical Association, said Actavis expects shortages of its version of oxycodone to end on June 30.

Apotex doesn't know when it will have its version back in production.

Connell said that in in the meantime, patients and their doctors should work with their pharmacists to use "alternate treatments" until the shortage of oxycodone is over.

With files from CBC's Susan Lunn