OxyContin: trigger for one of North America’s most serious public health crises
Understanding opioids to get a handle on the crisis
Since antiquity, the poppy plant has been known for its analgesic (pain-relieving) properties. Over the centuries, morphine, a component of opium extracted from the poppy plant, came to be used as a medical treatment especially to control pain.
It is important to note that morphine is the active compound in many substances, such as heroin or codeine. Numerous products have been chemically synthesized to make up the opioid family, also called opiates. This family is divided into three groups: 
From a simple painkiller to drug addiction
OxyContin, sold by the Purdue Pharma group, is an oxycodone derivative belonging to the strongest class of opioids. As a result, its addictive power is enormous. This has resulted in millions of users becoming hooked on opioids, even though they and their doctors were promised a treatment with no adverse effects.
“OxyContin was at the heart of the opioid tsunami that followed,” says Benedikt Fischer, a researcher at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto. “The demand for illegal opioids was created 10, 15 years ago through the phenomenon of overprescribing in our medical system,” the researcher adds.
It appears that in both the United States and Canada, the authorities and the medical profession have been somewhat complacent on this issue.
Today, even though OxyContin is no longer available and Purdue Pharma has been found liable, the opioid crisis is not over.
Medications don’t work the same way for everyone
Our DNA coding makes each of us unique, but this uniqueness can sometimes make us immune to the effects of certain medications or, conversely, lead to unforeseen side effects.
The ravages of fentanyl
The main hazards of fentanyl
Fentanyl more deadly than COVID-19 in Western Canada
Being vigilant in the face of the opioid crisis
Taking painkillers is not without risk, even for basic ibuprofen tablets. It is important to know what is in your pills and to stick to the dosage. You should also avoid self-medication and seek medical advice before using certain treatments.
Here is a list of pharmaceutical products available for controlling pain:
- Non-opioid medications such as acetaminophen, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), for minor to moderate pain
- Opioid medications such as codeine for minor pain, and oxycodone or morphine for severe pain
- Local or topical anesthetics such as lidocaine and EMLA
- Other medications such as anticonvulsants and antidepressants, which can also help relieve pain
Because some young people are occasionally tempted to experiment, it is also advisable to keep a watchful eye on the most potent substances in your home medicine cabinet.
Lastly, if you have a loved one who is struggling with addiction, Health Canada’s page on the overdose crisis is an excellent source of information. From the stigma associated with drug use to treatments to resources for help, this page covers all areas related to the topic.
Naloxone, the life-saving antidote
For professional support, we are here.
- J. Michel. “Crise des opiacés aux États-Unis,” La Presse [Montreal], September 1, 2021, https://www.lapresse.ca/affaires/entreprises/2021-09-01/crise-des-opiaces-aux-etats-unis/la-justice-valide-la-faillite-de-purdue-immunite-partielle-pour-les-sackler.php.
- The team at Pharmacomédicale.org. “Opiacées : les points essentiels,” November 30 2021, https://pharmacomedicale.org/medicaments/par-specialites/item/opiacees-les-points-essentiels.
- C. Lavigne. “Les dessous de la crise des opiacées,” Radio-Canada, November 8, 2018, https://ici.radio-canada.ca/nouvelles/special/2018/11/opioides-purdue-pharma-oxycontin-canada/.
- K. Howlett. “Canada’s Opioid Crisis,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, September 17, 2020, https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/canadas-opioid-crisis.
- The team at Camh. “Le fentanyl de rue,” 2021, https://www.camh.ca/fr/info-sante/index-sur-la-sante-mentale-et-la-dependance/le-fentanyl-de-rue.
- A. Labrecque. “Surdoses d’opioïdes : crise à l’ombre de la pandémie,” June 3, 2021, https://www.quebecscience.qc.ca/sante/surdose-opioides-crise-ombre-pandemie/?doing_wp_cron=1640720519.7376658916473388671875.
- P. Watson and J. Watt-Watson. “Les médicaments contre la douleur,” 2021, https://douleurchronique.org/gestion-de-la-douleur-chronique/medicaments/.
- Gouvernement du Québec. “Alcohol consumption, drug use and gambling: helping teenagers,” December 16, 2019, https://www.quebec.ca/sante/conseils-et-prevention/alcool-drogues-jeu/alcool-drogues-jeu-conseils-aux-parents.
- The team at Pharmacomédicale.org. “Opiacées : les points essentiels,” November 30, 2021, https://pharmacomedicale.org/medicaments/par-specialites/item/opiacees-les-points-essentiels.