US & Canada

Canada rejects generic OxyContin approval delay

OxyContin is displayed in stock photo 21 August 2001
Image caption OxyContin's maker, Purdue Pharma, withdrew the drug in March in response to abuse concerns

Canada's health minister has refused to halt approval of a generic form of OxyContin, a narcotic painkiller widely abused in First Nation communities.

Leona Aglukkaq rejected calls from provincial officials to intervene, saying political involvement would be "a recipe for disaster".

Licensing rules for the generic drug, oxycodone, will be tightened, she said.

Canada's patent on the opioid will expire on 25 November, with generic approval expected soon afterwards.

The drug's producer, Purdue Pharma, has also introduced OxyNeo, a version designed to be harder to crush and inject, that is yet to be certified as "tamper-proof".

'Pick and choose'

"I do not believe that politicians should pick and choose which drugs get approved," Ms Aglukkaq said in a letter to provincial and territorial health ministers.

"While intentions may be noble in this circumstance, what stops future politicians from caving into public pressure and allowing unproven, unsafe drugs on the market once political pressure starts to mount?"

Ms Aglukkaq wrote that she would be open to further restrictions on the drug if Canada's provinces could not control the generic version.

Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews had led a campaign calling on Ms Aglukkaq to reject the cheaper, generic form of the drug.

"I am profoundly disappointed in Minister Aglukkaq's decision to ignore the threat to public safety posed by generic OxyContin and to allow it to enter the Canadian market," Ms Matthews said in a statement.

One MP told CBC News that the health minister's decision would exacerbate an already complex situation.

"They've not fixed the problem and now they're going to make it worse," Carolyn Bennett, a Liberal Party member, said.

Highly addictive OxyContin pills are widely available in major cities, but the price skyrockets in far-flung First Nations communities, where addicts can pay up to $600 (£380).

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