A report from Health Canada showing widespread abuse of the painkiller OxyContin has left some concerned that people do not take the drug seriously because it’s a prescription medication.
The drug is an opiate derivative that is frequently prescribed by doctors to patients suffering from moderate to severe pain, but also has high rates of misuse due to the euphoria it provides. The problem is the drug’s highly addictive nature, which can lead to severe withdrawal symptoms not unlike morphine or heroin.
Just over 460 people have died from overdoses of OxyContin in an estimated five years, according to an investigation by the Toronto Star.
The Star also concluded that addiction rates related to OxyContin are rising. Last year, Ontario had spent $54 million funding the drug, compared to only $19 million five years ago.
Dr. Henry Ho, a physician in North York, has prescribed OxyContin to patients suffering severe pain on several occasions. He said that people are more likely to get addicted to OxyContin because it doesn’t carry the same stigma as illicit drugs.
“People assume because it’s a prescription medication it’s safe,” Ho said. “You can argue in one aspect that’s true because it’s regulated, therefore won’t have any inappropriate components,” he said.
“However on the other hand there are prescription medications such as OxyContin that can kill if misused.”
The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse confirmed in a report on OxyContin that an overdose on the substance can have lethal results, especially for those who have not developed a tolerance.
These statements have been echoed by others who have had extensive experience with the drug, including senior detective Lonne Ratchford of the Toronto Police Services Drug Squad.
“When people look at OxyContin and compare that to say, heroin, they’re both opiate derivatives, but one has a much more serious connotation than the other,” Ratchford said.
According to Ho, OxyContin is “pretty close to the top” of the most abused prescription drugs.
He said he has had instances where patients have gotten addicted and reacted negatively when he expressed concerns about their dependence.
“I’ve had patients who will get very upset, they will say they disagree with my statement and that they’re not addicted,” Ho said.
In light of the Feb. 9 Toronto Star investigation, Canadian health officials were prompted to launch a national probe into the misuse of the drug.
The probe coincides with the FDA meeting with 16 drug makers on March 3, including Purdue Pharma, the makers of OxyContin, to discuss more prominent warning labels as well as restrictions on who can be prescribed the drug.