As deaths from powerful painkillers continue to rise, Canada is pursuing unprecedented measures to curb their use, including requiring cigarette-style warning stickers on every prescription, Health Minister Jane Philpott told Reuters.
Next month Health Canada plans to publish a detailed proposal for the stickers, which Philpott said would warn that opioid painkillers can cause addiction and overdose. In March, an advisory panel is set to consider a second measure, revising the official label definition of how opioids should – and should not – be used, officials said.
Any revision would affect marketing efforts by manufacturers, including privately held Purdue Pharma and Pharmascience, as well as publicly traded Teva Pharmaceuticals Industries, Mallinckrodt Plc, Novartis’s Sandoz and Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen Pharma.
Warning stickers would be a first and could serve as an example. The measures would follow other strategies that failed to stem addiction and death involving prescription opioids, such as OxyContin and Hydromorph Contin, as well as illicit ones, including heroin and powerful fentanyl smuggled from China.
Fatal overdoses have increased across Canada, mirroring the much larger epidemic in the United States. In Ontario, the most populous province, prescription opioid deaths rose 40 percent in six years; in the western province of Saskatchewan, they more than doubled since 2010. An influx of illicit variations of fentanyl fueled an 80 percent increase in deaths last year in British Columbia to a record 914.
Philpott has called the opioid epidemic the nation’s greatest public health crisis and pledged to use every tool at her disposal to fix it.