Saskatchewan is joining at least four other provinces in cracking down on oxycodone prescriptions in the face of rising addiction rates.
In an announcement Tuesday afternoon, Saskatchewan’s health ministry said that, starting at the end of the month, it will only pay for OxyContin’s replacement painkiller in exceptional circumstances. Anyone who isn’t getting pain treatment for cancer or palliative care will have to pay for the drug themselves.
The move follows decisions in Ontario and Nova Scotia in the past several days to take similar steps in an attempt to crack down on Canada’s fastest-growing addiction.
As Purdue Pharmaceuticals’ patent on OxyContin nears its expiry date, the drug maker has come out with a replacement, OxyNEO. The new drug has the same composition – it’s a long-acting oxycodone – but has a hard shell that Purdue says makes it harder to crush and, therefore, harder for serious addicts to snort or inject.
That isn’t good enough, some provinces have decided.
“We have an opportunity, with the introduction of a new medication, to listen to concerns from health practitioners, pharmacists, law enforcement,” Tracey Smith, director of the province’s pharmaceutical services drug plan, said in an interview.
“We’re taking steps, by strengthening our criteria for coverage, to encourage more appropriate use of this particular medication.”
The new rules only apply to people covered by Saskatchewan’s public drug plan. But Ms. Smith said most people in the province are: The plan covers everyone not already under a different government program.
This is one of the most dramatic steps that provinces have taken to crack down on prescription drug abuse after years of rising addiction rates and thousands of opioid-related deaths.
Some addiction advocates argue this is only a first step. They say many jurisdictions are still far behind when it comes to tracking exactly who is being prescribed what. Ontario’s drug-monitoring program, long in development, is expected to begin in mid-April.
Saskatchewan’s College of Physicians and Surgeons runs a review program that tracks prescriptions for several potentially problematic drugs – oxycodone among them. While it doesn’t provide real-time data, Ms. Smith said, it follows patterns in prescription filling and alerts the college when it notices something that could be inappropriate.