OTTAWA (AP) — Canada's federal government allowed the approval process to proceed Monday for the generic form of the highly-addictive painkiller OxyContin, a move that set off a quick outcry from the country's provinces and aboriginal communities.
Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq rejected a plea from Canada's provinces, which unanimously requested a delay of approval until regulators could examine the abuse of oxycodone. Ontario asked for a complete ban on the drug, which has caused widespread addictions in Canada's rural and tribal communities.
Her refusal to get involved in the process opens the way for generic oxycodone to win approval in Canada after the patent for the brand-name OxyContin expires on Nov. 25.
"I am profoundly disappointed in minister Aglukkaq's decision to ignore the threat to public safety posed by generic OxyContin and to allow it to enter the Canadian market," Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews said in a statement.
Matthews had warned that the "streets would be flooded" with the generic form of the drug if it is approved.
Aglukkaq rejected those warnings. She told a news conference that federal laws don't allow regulators to ban a drug just because some people abuse it, and said the provinces already have several ways to prevent oxycodone and other opiates from being abused. If provincial authorities have proof that doctors and pharmacists are enabling abuse, the federal government will take action, she added.
While national figures are hard to come by, Matthews said OxyContin has led to a five-fold increase in oxycodone-related deaths. She said the social costs of allowing generic oxycodone would be about $500 million a year in Ontario alone.
OxyContin is trafficked on the black market across rural Canada. In some northern Ontario tribal reservations, more than half the adult population is addicted to prescription drugs.
Alvin Fiddler, deputy grand chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, called the decision another unwelcome blow to aboriginal communities that are already suffering.
"With OxyContin clones on the market, it just means more drugs flow to the north," said Fiddler, whose group represents some 49 First Nation communities in northern Ontario.