Beating the Drum — Blanchard on OxyContin


Beating the Drum

The New and Improved Oxy

Beverly Blanchard is an Ojibway First Nation from Northern Ontario.  She holds a degree in Economics. During the last twenty-two years, she has worked as a consultant to First Nation and Inuit organizations in a variety of disciplines including: homelessness, suicide prevention, violence prevention, childcare, HIV/AIDS, women’s issues, business planning, and economic development. She has also designed and delivered Aboriginal awareness and stress management workshops to Federal government employees. Currently, Ms Blanchard is a life strategy coach, author and energy healer in Ottawa.
By Beverly Blanchard
True North Perspective

Crush it. Mix it with some water, add a little heat and put it in a needle. They say it is a real high. They also say it is a very addictive.

I was somewhat confused when I read all the headlines regarding OxyContin last week. Health Canada is discontinuing it. The pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma who manufactures OxyContin is no longer producing it. Various provinces are no longer going to fund it. The more I read the more confused I got. So I decided to do a bit of research. Here is what I came to understand.

Apparently this decision was not a decision that was made in the past two weeks.  According to Purdue Pharma’s website, on August 22, 2011 Health Canada approved OxyNEO as a replacement for OxyContin. Purdue then began discussions with the provincial drug plans and other stakeholders, and was looking to introduce OxyNEO in 2012 in Canada.

This transition to OxyNEO was already completed in the United States in 2010. There are some who say the real reason for the Purdue Pharma’s drug change deals with exclusively with the issue of expiring drug patents, and not with being a better corporate citizen.

So as of March 1 2012 OxyContin will no longer be available in Canada. Instead Purdue Pharma has reformatted the packaging of this painkiller and is now rebranding it under a new name called OxyNEO.  Same old OxyContin drug but in a new and improved tamper proof pill.

Unlike OxyContin, we are told that OxyNEO cannot be transformed into a drug that you can either shoot up your arm with a needle or snort up your nose which is how the drug is abused.  Apparently, when OxyNEO was introduced in the United States, the internet forums were ablaze with inventive suggestions on how to outwit the tamper-proof OxyNeo.

Now with regards to the government drug programs each province is determining whether or not they will fund the drug OxyNEO. There are some provinces that will only fund the use of OxyNEO under exceptional situations such as palliative or cancer care. In other provinces, doctors will be required to apply for access to OxyNEO for their patients. Based on what I understand criteria may not apply to private insurance plans.

For First Nations and Inuit, this issue of OxyNEO deals with First Nations and Inuit Health Branch (FNIHB) of Health Canada. FNIHB is mandated with the administration of all health related benefits for First Nations members of a reserve and Inuit people. This includes determining which drugs will be paid for by Health Canada.

According to a Health Canada official, the number of First Nations people in Northern Ontario using OxyContin through prescription is small. Out of 45,000, there are 100 people using OxyContin.

The problem for many of these First Nation communities is the fact that OxyContin is not necessarily obtained through a doctor’s visit. It is bought on the black market and apparently is not cheap. The forum boards put the price at one dollar per mg or $25/80mg pill. As with other commodities the price goes up the further north one goes.

According to news reports, within Northern Ontario there could be anywhere from 10,000 to 23,000 First Nations addicted to OxyContin. So on March 1 there will be no more OxyContin, and no one has really thought out how this is going to impact the people that are addicted to it. How will a community deal with the withdrawals when there are not enough doctors or nurses in the community?

Questions that keep coming to mind are how do thousands of pills make their way to the streets? Are there that many pharmacies that are robbed?