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Health Canada, OxyContin, Transparency, Regulation, Overdose Crisis


The marketing and sale of oxycodone (OxyContin) by Purdue Pharma has commanded a great deal of legal and policy attention due to the drug’s central role in the ongoing overdose crisis. However, little is known about the basis for OxyContin’s approval by regulators, such as Health Canada in 1996. Taking advantage of a recently created online database containing information pertaining to the safety and effectiveness of drugs, we conducted a retrospective analysis of Purdue Pharma’s submission to Health Canada, including both published and unpublished clinical trials. None of the trials sponsored by Purdue Pharma sought to meaningfully assess the risks of misuse or addiction associated with OxyContin. The trials were short in duration (maximum length was 24 days) and only assessed safety and efficacy of a 12-h dosing interval. Also, the two trial reports that explicitly mentioned (but did not formally evaluate) the risk of misuse were not published, making it unclear how Health Canada concluded that there was no risk of misuse. In our view, these findings underscore the need for transparency of not only of clinical trial data, but also the regulator’s interpretation of such data, which is currently lacking in Canada. Furthermore, they call into question why Health Canada’s role in precipitating the overdose crisis has not received greater scrutiny, including in the context of recent litigation surrounding OxyContin.

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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License