There's nothing surprising about two physicians who specialize in addiction, writing about opioid addiction. That's because it's a major public health crisis with over 200,000 Canadians addicted to prescription pain killers. And just as distressing, Canadians are the second largest consumers of prescription opioids worldwide, with drug overdoses from prescription pain opioids rising at an alarming rate.
The sheer magnitude of this issue warrants us writing about it, talking about it and taking action.
But last year Health Canada approved the generic version of oxycodone (a prescription pain killer), even after warnings from Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews that " ... the costs to society of the re-introduction of (oxycodone) far outweigh the financial benefits that would accrue from the reduced price patients would receive".
And then recently, just as alarming, Health Canada approved a new generic version for a treatment option for opioid addiction, which at face value may seem like a good move, but not when you discover the company bringing this treatment to market also produces fentanyl and oxycodone -- prescription pain killers that are at the centre of the prescription drug abuse crisis.
Prescription opioids, like fentanyl and oxycodone, play an important role in pain management, but their use has become a double-edged sword. Despite their clear and important medical use, they are just as dangerous as illegal drugs, because of their high risk for addiction.
For some, it starts with just one prescription for a legitimate medical condition and goes downhill from there. Dependency develops, addiction ensues and lives get destroyed because users will do almost anything to avoid experiencing the symptoms of withdrawal if they stop using the opioid.
Access to treatment is critical in helping Canadians battle their opioid addiction, and is the reason we feel the need to speak out. Generally, a generic addiction treatment coming to market would be a welcome addition for physicians, as well as for public formularies, because it's a way to address rising health care federal / provincial / territorial costs. But, in this case, it's raising more than a few eyebrows.
What kind of message is Health Canada sending doctors that address opioid addiction, or for that matter, patients and their families? Are they really serious about addressing opioid addiction if there are rewards instead of repercussions for the role of increasing the level of addiction in Canada? And what about the provinces? Will they just follow the disinterested lead of Health Canada, putting savings to their public purse ahead of public and societal responsibility?
We fully support the importance of generic pharmaceutical products in this country, but in the case of oxycodone generic, and now a generic treatment for opioid addiction by a company who is one of the biggest producers and marketers of prescription pain killers in the country, we can't help but think that patients and physicians are getting played by their governments, and at a huge human cost.