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Forced OxyContin removal in Canada makes mass-crisis imminent

By Yukio Strachan     Feb 18, 2012 in Health
Forcing Oxycontin off pharmacy shelves will force in a public health disaster that authorities may not be prepared to handle, addiction experts warn.
The Montreal Gazette reports that in Ontario, the "staggering" number of addicts on remote, northern reserves, face sudden involuntary and potentially dangerous withdrawal from the powerful prescription painkiller, pushing people onto other more dangerous drugs and sparking an increase crime, said Benedikt Fischer of B.C.'s Simon Fraser University.
"There are thousands of addicted individuals with rapidly shrinking supplies - likely leading to massive increases in black-market prices, use of other drugs, needle use and sharing, and crime."
Fischer, director of the university's Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addictions, said as many as half of the adults and youth on reserves belonging to Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) in northern Ontario are dependent on OxyContin now.
"In the absence of any regular treatment, a public-health catastrophe is imminent," Fischer said Thursday in the draft of a statement prepared by NAN.
Purdue Pharma Canada, the company that makes the narcotic painkiller, will replace it with a new version to make abuse more difficult called OxyNEO, making pills harder to crush and snort or inject.
And at the end of February, OxyContin will be pulled from shelves across Canada.
Grand Chief Stan Beardy told the Toronto Star that visiting doctors come to treat residents two or three days each month for routine health care. When thousands are forced into sudden withdrawal there will not be enough care for those who will desperately need it.
“We are very concerned that if they cease manufacturing OxyContin and if there is no replacement or treatment or detox centres for these people, there is going to be a major catastrophe.”
“In some communities, it’s as high as 70 to 80 per cent of people addicted to OxyContin, including kids as young as 9 years old to people as old 65,” Beardy told the Star.
Health Canada, however, said most of those addicted to OxyContin are not getting the drug through legal prescriptions funded by the government. In fact, in the NAN reserves, fewer than 100 patients get the drug paid for by the department, said Health Canada spokesperson Leslie Meerburg, the Toronto Star reported.
“There is little concern of withdrawal for clients switching therapy from OxyContin to OxyNeo when taken as prescribed by a physician,” she said. “However, it is possible that some clients who obtained OxyContin through other sources may go into withdrawal when OxyContin is removed from the Canadian market and they are unable to find another source of supply.
“This is a concern for any individual who obtains and uses OxyContin outside of appropriate medical indications.”
But First Nations chiefs have another concern: residents needing care. They've repeatedly pleaded for adequate help dealing with the crisis, including access to withdrawal treatment and drugs, more doctors and nurses, and better mental health services with little to no response, The Ottawa Citizen writes.
"What is happening in northern Ontario is a public health catastrophe that is being allowed to unfold without adequate resources to prevent it."
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