The Canadian government has issued a typically Canadian response — polite but firm —to American lawmakers calling for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s administration to crack down on the flow of Canadian painkillers into the United States.
U.S. House and Senate members, citing a nationwide prescription drug abuse crisis, penned a letter last week calling for Canada to move more quickly to limit the availability of non-abuse deterrent opioids, including oxycodone pain relievers, manufactured north of the border.
In response, the Canadian health ministry has cautioned against overstating Canada’s role in the opioid crisis in the United States, where drug overdoses have surpassed motor vehicles and firearms as the No. 1 cause of accidental death.
“While abuse and use of opioids is certainly an important public health issue in Canada and the USA, diversion of illegal products to the USA does not appear to be a major contributor to the issue,” Sean Upton, Health Canada’s senior media relations officer told InsideSources.
Citing a study recently published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Upton wrote in an emailed statement that there is “no evidence of any increase in dispensing of the generic non-tamper-resistant formulations near the Canada-USA border.”
That conclusion seems to contradict some of the arguments posited by the bipartisan congressional group that asked the Trudeau administration in a March 7 letter to move more quickly to tighten Canadian regulations on how opioids are manufactured and prescribed — especially Canadian drugs that, under present rules, are not “abuse deterrent.”
“It is concerning to us that … Canada still permits the manufacture and sale of non-abuse deterrent formulations of oxycodone pain relievers, and these drugs continue to find their way across the border to every region and almost every state in the United States,” the lawmakers wrote to Canadian Minister of Health Dr. Jane Philpott, a Trudeau appointee.
“We respectfully urge you to consider accelerating the timetable for the removal of non-abuse deterrent formulations of oxycodone pain relievers from the Canadian marketplace.”
New Hampshire Sens. Kelly Ayotte, a Republican, and Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat; Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C.; and Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., signed the letter, as did House Republicans Frank Guinta of New Hampshire, North Dakota’s Kevin Cramer, Michigan’s Bill Huizenga and New York’s Elise Stefanik, along with House Democrats Peter Welch of Vermont, New Hampshire’s Ann McLane Kuster, Washington’s Suzan DelBene and New York’s Brian Higgins.
Asked if the Canadian government, had a response to the March 7 letter, Upton wrote that there is “no evidence of disproportionate diversion or abuse” of Canada’s generic controlled-release oxycodone products.
“Health Canada takes the issue of prescription drug abuse very seriously,” he wrote, saying the department is working to address prescription drug abuse by:
- Educating consumers
- Increasing inspections to minimize diversion of prescription drugs from pharmacies
- Improving surveillance data on prescription drug abuse
- Working with partners to enhance prevention and treatment services.
“This strategy includes a series of actions to specifically limit any potential diversion of non-tamper-resistant controlled-release oxycodone pain relievers,” Upton wrote.
The American lawmakers’ entreaty came just days before Trudeau made his first official state visit to the White House since taking office in Toronto in November.
Trudeau’s meetings with the Obama administration were dominated by talks on trade and the fight against global terrorism, but with overdoses skyrocketing across the country, the opioid crisis has become a political, health and crime priority in border states like New Hampshire.
The Senate last week overwhelmingly approved, 94 to 1, a bill to combat the opioid and heroin abuse epidemic. The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which focuses efforts on prevention, treatment and recovery programs, now goes to the U.S. House.
The measure was considered a critically important victory for the bill’s top two Republican sponsors, Ayotte and Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, as both face tough re-election fights in November.