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Pharmacy Robberies, Patient Care & Public Health

Health Canada approved a new formulation of controlled-release oxycodone, OxyNEO, earlier this year. The way in which its predecessor, OxyContin, was formulated contributed to significant abuse potential, as the tablets could be crushed then either snorted or injected. Both Canada and the US have experienced significant abuse problems related to OxyContin. Prior to the release of the new more tamper-proof product, many Canadian pharmacies were limiting their stock of OxyContin if they carried it at all.

News reports over the last few years have indicated an alarming increase in pharmacy robberies, and very often OxyContin was the target. A recent news report suggests the availability of the new alternative OxyNEO has significantly decreased pharmacy robberies in the Ottawa area (where CPhA is based).

Is this a simple cause and effect relationship? It is an intriguing question whether this is due to the lack of appeal of OxyNEO amongst abusers, or whether it is due to pharmacies no longer carrying large quantities of the older drug.

Regardless, it appears that police chiefs are rightfully concerned that the November 25th patent expiration of the older formulation OxyContin, and the imminent release of much cheaper, generic formulations will not only encourage the continued abuse of this drug but actually intensify the problem. Given the recent policy changes to generic drug pricing, generic controlled-release oxycodone will be priced between 25% and 35% of the brand product. The lower price and resulting removal of a financial barrier could negate any positive effect from the introduction of OxyNEO.

Public sentiment on this very controversial subject is mixed. Some feel the past history with this drug and its abuse potential are reason enough to limit its availability, and support several provinces in their decision to not cover it in drug benefit plans. Those who advocate for patients who use the drug legitimately for treating severe pain are adamant that restricting access to a potentially useful analgesic is questionable public policy. As we watch public policy related to this issue evolve, it is apparent that difficult decisions will have to be made to balance the goals of patient care and public health.

See also OxyContin Discontinued – Resources for Managing Patient Therapy.

Thanks for joining us,
Phil Emberley,
Director, Pharmacy Innovation