Ottawa OKs imported drugs to treat opioid addiction

TORONTO — Provinces and territories are now able to import urgently needed medications that are not available in Canada to treat the growing incidence of opioid dependence under new Health Canada regulations announced Tuesday.

“The new regulatory pathway will enable public health officials to access drugs that aren’t approved in Canada that can be used in public health emergencies, like what we’re seeing in the opioid crisis,” Suzy McDonald, assistant deputy minister of the department’s Opioid Response Team, told a media briefing from Ottawa.

“Our goal is to provide timely and greater access to drugs not available in Canada to help address health crisis situations,” she said. “It enables public health professionals to access drugs that trusted regulators in the United States, the European Union or Switzerland have already reviewed and can be used as safe and effective treatments.”

Health Canada has published an initial list of drugs for import, including injectable Vivitrol and orally dissolving Suboxone — replacement medications for those trying to kick the opioid habit.

“The idea is that we would have more tools at the disposal of treating physicians for especially those very hard-to-treat patients or to have access to medications that are not used all that widely in Canada (because) … a company hasn’t decided to come and seek market access,” said Dr. Supriya Sharma, chief medical adviser for Health Canada.

The imported medications will remain on the list for one year, after which time they will be removed unless Health Canada receives notification for continued access to the medication to address an urgent or continuing public health need.

Medications to treat opioid use disorder and tuberculosis have been identified by public health officials as those needing immediate access. Examples of other drugs that could be approved for importation through the process are those for treating pandemic viruses or other public and military health emergencies.

McDonald said specific medications are added to the list based on requests from provincial or territorial medical officers of health, who have determined there is an urgent need at the population level.

British Columbia, which has been experiencing a rash of opioid-related overdose deaths in recent years, has requested several medications aimed at treating residents with what’s known as opioid use disorder.

Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s deputy provincial health officer, said many of the requested medications are sold in Canada, but not in optimal formulations.

“So it just basically increases the number of products that are available to support people when they’re going through recovery from opioid use disorders,” said Henry. “And the products that we’ve requested be available are ones that our addiction specialists have said they think would be helpful.”

Last year, about 23,000 B.C. residents were receiving opioid-substitution therapy in the form of methadone or Suboxone. That figure include those who have not sought treatment for abuse of prescription opioids such as oxycodone or illicit fentanyl pills sold on the street.

The province recorded 935 opioid-related overdose deaths in B.C. in 2016. So far this year, there have already been 488 such deaths, said Henry, who conceded that “we don’t seem to be turning the corner” on the crisis, despite a multi-pronged approach aimed at curbing the drug epidemic and reducing fatalities.

“These new medications aren’t going to solve our problem,” she said from Vancouver, “but they certainly make more options available for people.”

It’s not known how many Canadians are hooked on opioids, but the highly addictive drugs were responsible for an estimated 2,500 overdose deaths across the country in 2016 — a number that is likely to be surpassed this year.

“It goes without saying that Canada is experiencing an unprecedented public-health crisis of opioid-related overdoses and deaths,” said Dr. Theresa Tam, chief public health officer of Canada.

“If the current trend continues, deaths in Canada could be higher than 3,000 in 2017.”

Tam said Health Canada is collecting data on the number of opioid-related overdose deaths from the provinces and territories and hopes to begin releasing those numbers on a quarterly basis starting in August.

—-

Follow @SherylUbelacker on Twitter

Sheryl Ubelacker, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

WATCH: Christmas Wish Breakfast toy donations almost double

All toys donated Sunday will be given to the Red Deer Christmas Bureau and Red Deer Salvation Army

VIDEO: ‘Party bus’ goes up in flames in Vancouver

Fire crews responded to the late night blaze

Mothers Against Drunk Driving hold candlelight vigil

Four-and-a-half years ago Marilyn Rinas’ husband was killed in a collision with… Continue reading

Thousands expected at memorial for fallen police officer in Abbotsford, B.C.

ABBOTSFORD, B.C. — The streets of Abbotsford, B.C., will be lined with… Continue reading

One person dead, five others injured in early-morning crash in Kingston, Ont.

KINGSTON, Ont. — A man who was checking the damage on his… Continue reading

VIDEO: Replay Red Deer: Nov. 19

Watch news highlights from the week of Nov. 13

CP Holiday train to stop in Ponoka for another year

The popular train will feature entertainment from Colin James and Emma-Lee

Kittens rescued after allegedly being tossed from vehicle

Couple finds abandoned kittens new home through Facebook

VIDEO: ‘Party bus’ goes up in flames in Vancouver

Fire crews responded to the late night blaze

Chicken crosses B.C. road, stops traffic

Rooster makes early morning commuters wait in Maple Ridge

Red Deerian honours her brother who died in a motorcycle collision

Houaida Haddad is encouraging Red Deer residents to donate blood

Red Deer County firefighters to be recognized for Waterton help

RCMP brass will give formal recognition Monday

Ron James tries to lighten humanity’s load through humour

The comedian returns to Red Deer for shows Dec. 1 and 2

100+ Women Red Deer donate to Christmas Bureau

About $14,000 will help with Christmas hampers and toys

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month