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Canada's shift on tamper-resistant opioids a bitter pill for U.S. coalition

Last Updated Apr 21, 2016 at 9:20 am EDT

OTTAWA – A U.S. coalition led by pharmaceutical companies is accusing Health Canada of abandoning its leadership in the global fight against prescription opioid abuse by failing to enact strict new regulations.

It’s the latest salvo in a long-running policy debate over a deadly problem.

Earlier this month the federal Health Department dropped a plan to require products containing oxycodone to have tamper-resistant properties before they could be sold in Canada.

Health officials concluded that insisting on tamper-resistance would not have had the intended health and safety effects.

The department said the measures would have eliminated certain lower-cost drugs from the market, increasing costs for patients and the health system while having little to no effect in the fight against problematic opioid use.

In a letter this week to Health Minister Jane Philpott, the U.S. Abuse Deterrence Coalition says Canada’s move “runs counter to the interests of public health” and is out of step with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approach.

It says the growing availability of generic versions of oxycodone products has fuelled prescription opioid abuse in Canada and the United States. “Prescription drug abuse, misuse and diversion afflicts millions of Americans and Canadians, often with catastrophic consequences for those struggling with addiction, their families and their communities.”

Four years ago, the previous Conservative government rejected pleas to prohibit generic versions of brand-name OxyContin, saying it would do little to stop prescription drug abuse.

It noted there were almost 100 authorized drugs in Canada in the same class as OxyContin, and banning them all would cause pain and suffering for the patients who needed them.

OxyContin producer Purdue Pharma replaced the drug with a version called OxyNeo, which was supposed to be harder to crush and snort or inject.

The Abuse Deterrent Coalition says both innovative and generic pharmaceutical companies are developing pain medications that are resistant to being misused, while meeting the needs of patients.

Philpott’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

In its early April notice, her department said it supports industry efforts to develop tamper-resistant formulations, as well as better education and data-gathering.

Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter

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