The study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, echoes the belief of many Canadians that not enough is being done to stop the abuse of prescription drugs in Canada. Lawsuits across the country are alleging that OxyContin's maker knew, or ought to have known, that ingesting Oxycontin leads to drug dependency and addiction.
The Victoria research team, led by Dr. Benedikt Fischer, found that heroin use has become an increasingly marginal form of drug use among illicit opioid users in Canada.
Dr. Fischer said that in most cases, prescription opioids used by street drug users originated from the medical system and not from illicit production and distribution. In view of the findings, the team called for greater drug regulation.
The study also takes issue with "current drug control policies and treatment programs in Canada". Critics have expressed skepticism about the labeling of prescription drugs such as Oxycontin in Canada, arguing that overprescription of the drug has lead to rampant use on the street.
A long acting dosage form of the drug was approved by Health Canada six years ago. While formulated to be time-released, it was soon discovered that, if ground up and inhaled or injected, it can produce a heroin-like effect. Oxycontin addiction has since become an epidemic in Canada, with hundreds of deaths associated with the drug.
About the Study
Experts say the study is the first systematic documentation of drug use patterns among street drug users and the best to date on the issue of prescription opioid abuse in Canada.
The study was started in 2001 and its results are based mainly on a follow-up sample of 585 participants from seven Canadian cities: Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, Montreal, Quebec, Fredericton and St. John.
Problem Encompasses "All Provinces and Territories"
The abuse of prescription drugs like Oxycontin and other illegal drugs has increased and has had a profound effect on the community, and citizens are taking action by filing lawsuits against the makers of the drug. Many provinces are also considering lawsuits.
According to CBC News: "OxyContin has emerged as such a serious public health threat in Newfoundland and Labrador that [the provincial government has] commissioned a task force to deal with it."
READ MORE LEGAL NEWS
Canadian Response to US Settlement
In the U.S., Purdue Pharma and three executives recently admitted to charges of misbranding, and will pay $634.5 million in fines for claiming the drug was less addictive and less subject to abuse than other pain medications.
Maureen Harvey of Newfoundland, who became an advocate for families of addicts when her daughter became hooked on OxyContin, said she was shocked by disclosures from the U.S. case.
"I'm appalled that humans could do this," Harvey told CBC News. "I can't imagine how they could knowingly do this type of thing."