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Health Minister hints at OxyContin crackdown following U.S. pleas

Health Minister Rona Ambrose speaks in Calgary on Aug. 19, 2013.

CHRIS BOLIN/The Globe and Mail

Health Minister Rona Ambrose is suggesting there might soon be movement from Canada following pleas from the United States to outlaw addictive, generic forms of the highly prescribed painkiller OxyContin.

Ambrose says she's been "examining" the issue and that the government intends to move forward soon with a prescription drug strategy.

In 2010, Canada inched past the United States to become the highest opioid-consuming country on the planet on a per-capita basis.

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Nonetheless, U.S. appeals to Canada to ban addictive formulations of the drug were rebuffed by Ambrose's predecessor, Leona Aglukkaq, who said it was a provincial matter.

Some provinces, like Ontario and B.C., only cover prescriptions for the new tamper-resistant alternative, OxyNEO, but usually only for senior citizens on social assistance.

The provinces have no control over what private health insurers will pay for, and late last year, Health Canada gave six drug companies the green light to begin manufacturing the generic forms of the drug.

As many Ontario residents now die from opioid overdoses as they do in car accidents, according to a recent study by KFLA Public Health, based in Kingston, Ont.

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