|Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of Health, speaks to the media at Parliament Hill September 26, 2012, in Ottawa, Ontario. (QMI Agency/ANDRE FORGET)
OTTAWA - Allegations of pharmacy fraud are being investigated in at least three provinces, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said Tuesday.
In a one-on-one interview with QMI Agency, Aglukkaq said fraud allegations have been levelled in Nova Scotia and investigations are underway in Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
"We have proceeded with investigating those cases with the RCMP and in fact prosecuted some pharmacists who are double billing, for example under our program (Health Canada's Non-Insured Benefits Program)," she said.
The feds also say doctors have been over-prescribing potent prescription pills, including opioids like OxyContin.
"The individuals that actually prescribe have to be part of the solution in terms of how we are going to deal with this particular situation," Aglukkaq said.
Aglukkaq's comments come amid controversy surrounding Health Canada's review of applications from companies who want to produce generic versions of OxyContin.
Doctors prescribe opioids such as OxyContin 55 times as often as others, according to a study released in 2011 by St. Michael's Hospital and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences.
Some medical professionals say doctors should also spend more time talking to patients before prescribing due to contributing factors with addiction.
Coincidentally, this is National Addiction Awareness Week.
"If we are deciding to give a medication that has an addiction potential, we should pre-screen people and ask them about their alcohol history, their drug use history, have they been exposed to opioids before," said Dr. Joel Bordman, a Toronto-based addiction specialist who sat on an independent steering committee to detect prescription opioid abuse in Canada.
Bordman says people suffering from depression and anxiety are "most vulnerable" and are more prone to encounter problems with opioids.
OxyContin, manufactured by Purdue Pharma, was taken off the market by the company in March in favour of a new formulation, OxyNEO.
Purdue's patent on OxyContin expires on Nov. 25 but Aglukkaq said Monday the feds will not intervene in the authorization process despite public safety concerns raised by police chiefs, medical professionals and the provincial governments on Ontario and P.E.I.
"I am willing to sit down with the provincial and territorial health ministers to come up with a plan for Canada on prescription drug abuse," Aglukkaq said.
Health Canada is in the midst of evaluating the chemical make-up of generic forms of Oxy and will look at how the pills will be administered to consumers.
Some medical professionals have hammered the government for failing to consider public health factors.
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