The End of Oxycontin: Drug Addiction and Rehabilitation

Our crew was out in Hamilton taking photos when we came across a rooftop that had obviously been turned into a meeting place for drug addicts to inject. This roof is located directly across from the Hamilton City Centre at James St North and Rebecca St. We came across roughly 50 used needles scattered around the roof as well as blankets, sanitary wipes, discarded deodorant and toothbrushes.  These photos exemplify that issues of poverty and displacement are immediate and happening right before our eyes in Hamilton.

By: Layla Mashkoor (This is Hamilton)

In March, Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, stopped producing this drug in Canada due to epidemic abuse. Following this, Health Canada has delisted the prescription drug from its Non-Insured Health Benefits Program and Ontario has also delisted it from its drug benefits program. This is the first time in history Ontario has delisted a drug due to its addictive properties.

As cities such as Hamilton and Kingston begin running out of stockpiled supplies of OxyContin, there are two paths that can be taken to deal with the influx of Canadians who will soon be experiencing OxyContin withdrawal.

First, the most logical decision would be for the government to provide additional funding and support to drug rehabilitation services. Hamilton’s addiction treatment centres are already overburdened, and fear the worst is still to come.

In January, The Hamilton Clinic, a harm reduction facility that prescribes methadone,  saw a 47 per cent increase in patients wanting to get off Oxy. And there has been a 23 per cent increase each month since then, with a current patient load of 350, according to the Hamilton Spectator. The Hamilton Clinic says within four weeks, they will have to start wait-listing patients with drug addictions seeking rehabilitation. “And that sends a message that they’re not worthy,” Kim Paumier, the clinic director told the Spectator.

Unfortunately, providing escalated support to those battling OxyContin is not the path currently being taken by the government, instead there has been little to no discussion in Parliament regarding how to address the consequences of removing OxyContin from the market.

Syringe wrappers on a roof in Hamilton

What this means is that, first, the Canadian government introduced and allowed for the mass distribution of a highly addictive prescription drug, that has caused epidemic deaths and illnesses. Second, once faced with the fatal reality created by OxyContin, the government rightfully made the drug illegal. But for all the current Canadian citizens struggling with an OxyContin addiction, they will receive no further funding or support to help them seek treatment and combat withdrawal symtoms. In fact, they are likely to be placed on a waiting list.

OxyContin is an opioid with highly addictive qualities, that before March, was legally available by prescription, but could be found on the streets for recreational purposes. Debbie Bang, of the Womankind Addiction Services at St. Joseph’s Hospital, told the Hamilton Spectator that before delisting, the pill cost $40 on the street, but now it goes for about $150.

OxyContin is being replaced with a new drug, OxyNeo, which is designed to deter addicts from injecting or snorting it. OxyNeo is a pill with a thicker shell that can not be crushed as easily and turns into a thick gel when mixed with water. However, there is speculation that by microwaving and then freezing OxyNeo, one is able to produce an injectable substance, but this process increases the risk of overdose, as it is more difficult to track the dosage.

To prescribe OxyNeo to new Oxy patients, doctors in Ontario (the province with the highest opioid usage in the country and 3,500 deaths since 1991) will have to make special requests through the Exceptional Access Program.

The Wayside House, a men’s withdrawal management centre located in Hamilton, has seen a 10 per cent increase since March of men with a drug use history that includes Oxy. Further, Womankind Addiction Services, saw the number of women seeking withdrawal management for opiate addictions jump from 34 last March to 57 this year, according to the Spectator.

In Hamilton, young women are the primary users of OxyContin and more than 30 babies are born with an opioid addiction issue every year, Bang of the Womankind Centre told the Spectator. This is due to the disassociation of drugs in pill form with hard drugs such as heroin or crystal methamphetamine, making them seem more legitimate.

However, without proper treatment options, the only alternative for these addicts, who typically received their drug from a doctor’s office, not the streets, will now be to turn to other dangerous drugs, such as heroin or other opioids such as crystal methamphetamine or fentanyl.

There are many dangers here because inexperienced drug users, who are not typically “street-saavy” will be seeking their fix in more dangerous places. There is now a whole new community of users entering the illicit drug market. In 2011 alone, Global News reported that over 500,000 prescriptions for OxyContin were given. “Now imagine trying to boil down a Fentanyl patch or inject heroin, and you’ve never done that before. So the risk of overdose is so much higher on all these other drugs, especially heroin.” Ron Shore director of Kingston Community Health Centres told the Kingston Wig.

In Hamilton on May 22, 2012, 80 addiction and treatment experts from across the city met for an Oxy workshop. They discussed the symptoms of withdrawal, the dynamics of the narcotic’s new, supposedly less addictive replacement, OxyNeo, and reviewed the city’s opioid withdrawal protocol used by ER physicians.

Questions to Ponder – Linking Practice & Theory

The tensions of being a citizen but being excluded from the political and democratic processes of a state are very obvious in the case of those struggling with OxyContin addictions, who are unable to adequately voice their agency within the political decision making process. How does the disconnect between citizenship and agency further entrench certain populations into the undesirable position of being a disposable and underrepresented population?

Dan Meades, gave an excellent Tedx Talk on citizenship, urbanism and poverty. Check it out here: 

“What does poverty do to our communities? Kind of, so what? Well, of course there is the moral issue, we don’t want poverty in our communities because it is not right. And that’s true. But we don’t want it because it creates a bunch of other ‘things’ that we don’t want in our community, things like domestic violence and addiction, higher rates of mental illness, lower rates of trust. Things that we care about in our communities inherently, and poverty eats away at them and creates all these negatives things. – Dan Meades

Further reading: The Hamilton Spectator -Life Ater Oxy: Addiction Services see a Rise in Client Numbers

Ontario Government Press Release – Helping Reduce Abuse of Prescription Drugs

©All photos taken by Tiger in a Suit Productions.

2 Responses to “The End of Oxycontin: Drug Addiction and Rehabilitation”
  1. Rosendo Kava says:

    Drug Addiction is of course deadly specially if a person have overdose. We should always keep the drug addicts out of the streets to help them live a better life. ,`”.; Many thanks health and well being resources

  2. mdhuset says:

    Hi there just wanted to give you a quick heads up.

    The words in your article seem to be running off the screen in Ie.
    I’m not sure if this is a format issue or something to do with
    internet browser compatibility but I thought I’d post to let
    you know. The style and design look great though! Hope you get the problem solved soon.
    Many thanks

We'd love to hear from you!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: