ORONTO - First Nations leaders say a health crisis is about to be unleashed on northern Ontario reserves because thousands of residents addicted to OxyContin will soon be cut off from the prescription opiate.
The maker of OxyContin, which is up to twice as strong as morphine, will stop manufacturing the drug in Canada at the end of the month. As of March 1, Purdue Pharma Canada will replace OxyContin with a new formulation called OxyNEO.
OxyContin, taken orally in pill form, is a long-acting form of the highly addictive opioid oxycodone. But when the pill is chewed or crushed, then injected or inhaled, it produces a "heroin-like euphoria," Health Canada says.
OxyNEO will also be made with oxycodone, but it's formulated to make abuse more difficult: the tablet is hard to crush and when added to liquid, it forms a thick gel that stops oxycodone from being extracted for injection.
Leaders of Ontario's Nishnawbe Aski Nation, or NAN, said that with no OxyContin available, those addicted to the drug will go into withdrawal.
"It scares me. It's going to be a catastrophe," said NAN Chief Stan Beardy, stressing that there is potential for a "mass involuntary opiate withdrawal" on the horizon.
"I don't think governments understand the severity of addictions we're talking about here," Beardy said in an interview Thursday.