OTTAWA (Canadian OH&S News)
With the patent for painkiller OxyContin set to expire at the end of November, provincial and territorial health ministers have unanimously agreed to ask the federal government to delay the approval of a generic form of the drug pending further research.
It is a move that could have implications for injured workers using the narcotic painkiller and workers’ compensation boards, which pay for the drug, across the country. The patent for OxyContin — the brand name for controlled-release oxycodone produced by Stamford, Conn.-based Purdue Pharma and used to treat moderate to severe pain — will end on Nov. 25.
While Deb Matthews, Ontario’s minister of health and long-term care, has called for an outright ban on the generic drug, other provincial and territorial ministers have been campaigning for Health Canada to at the very least delay its decision on whether or not to allow generic formulations of OxyContin to be distributed across Canada.
“I understand generic manufacturers may have submitted their products for approval to market in Canada,” Matthews wrote in a letter to Leona Aglukkaq, federal health minister, on July 6. “To the best of our knowledge, generic oxycodone [controlled-release tablets] will not be formulated to be tamper resistant.”
At the beginning of March this year, Purdue Pharma Canada discontinued the drug and replaced it with OxyNEO. The new tablets are more resistant to breaking, crushing and chewing and become gel-like instead of dissolving when in contact with water, making them more difficult to abuse [COHSN, March 26, 2012]. Abusers could modify the drug by crushing the tablets for inhaling or dissolving them in fluid for injecting, which defeats the time-release property that modifies the dosage.
“I strongly believe that we would be doing our constituents a disservice if we allowed these improvements to be eroded by the re-introduction of the non-tamper-resistant formulation to the Canadian market,” Matthews wrote in the letter.
Zita Astravas, Matthews’ press secretary, explained that anybody who had a prescription for OxyContin automatically got transferred to the new, more tamper-proof drug in March, but access to that in Ontario goes through the Exceptional Access Program.
“Anyone who needs access to this drug will continue to get so through their physician, this is just a matter of having a generic, which is a more easily-tampered with pill that was taken off the market,” she said. “At the end of the day, what matters is that people who actually need it will continue to have access to it.”
When OxyNEO was introduced, Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board approved its use as a replacement for OxyContin. In 2011, there were about 6,000 workers covered for OxyContin prescriptions, less than 10 per cent of all workers who had a drug bill by the board, the WSIB reported.
Christine Arnott, spokesperson for the board, said that when used appropriately, narcotics should improve a worker’s function and quality of life, and support a safe and sustained return-to-work.
As of February 2010, following a new injury or recurrence, the WSIB only initially allows prescriptions for short-acting narcotics for a maximum of 12 weeks, after which time, clinical staff review the worker’s case regarding ongoing use, Arnott confirmed.
Currently, the compensation board only considers OxyNEO tablets ranging in strength from 10 to 40 milligrams. “Should generic OxyContin become available in Ontario, we will review the new material,” she said.