|Leona Aglukkaq. (Chris Roussakis/QMI Agency)
OTTAWA — The feds say they cannot legally approve or reject medications, like generic OxyContin, based on the possibility for misuse while health advocates argue the authorization process should focus on public health.
Health Canada is set to announce by Nov. 25 whether it approves several applications for generic OxyContin — a powerful opioid medication, called "hillbilly heroin" on the streets – but Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said she won’t get involved despite calls to step in over concerns about abuse and addiction.
"It's a recipe for disaster for politicians to get involved in approving drugs," Aglukkaq said at a Monday press conference, adding department scientists will make the final call.
Police chiefs, health-advocacy organizations and the governments of Ontario and P.E.I. oppose generic versions of OxyContin in Canada because they believe the drug is fuelling a nationwide problem that requires a “national solution.”
“There is a higher risk with the addiction potential with OxyContin,” said Dr. Jennifer Melamed, a Vancouver family doctor specializing in addiction medicine.
“(Aglukkaq) is not looking at the number of deaths we have with OxyContin.”
Health Canada, however, will only consider if generics are chemically manufactured in the same way as the original drug — produced by Purdue Pharma — and whether patients will take pills in the same way.
Last March, Purdue pulled OxyContin from the Canadian market and introduced a new version, OxyNEO. Purdue said the new formula was designed to be more difficult for addicts to abuse, but the manufacturer didn't have to prove this claim before the drug was approved for market.
The feds, who admit doctors over-prescribe prescription pills, have called on the provinces and territories to take action to combat abuse.