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Published on Sep 2, 2014
It was touted as a miracle pill: a narcotic pain reliever that could change the lives of people suffering from chronic pain, but with little -- so its maker claimed, and thousands of doctors believed -- risk of addiction.
Since OxyContin was introduced in 1996, Canada has recorded the second-highest number of prescription opioid painkiller addictions -- and the world's second-highest death rate from overdoses.
"It's helping your pain, but then you get immune to it, so then you go to the family doctor and he says 'Well, you're gonna need more,'" a woman who became addicted to OxyContin tells the fifth estate's Linden MacIntyre. "So he puts you on the 40 milligram (dose) and you're on that for a month, and then you get used to that dose and he puts you on the 80s."
But how did a little pill that only appeared in 1996 become so big, so fast? In 1998, Canadian sales were just a few million dollars. Twelve years later they had soared to $243 million. In the U.S., sales were $3.5 billion in 2010. Though there were differences in corporate style and legal structure between Purdue in the U.S and in Canada, a similar marketing approach proved wildly successful. the fifth estate examines why medical schools, GPs and specialists in pain clinics readily embraced the drug at first, and why some have now changed their minds.
OxyContin was dropped from provincial health plans in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Atlantic Canada. The manufacturer has now stopped making it altogether, replacing it with a new formulation known as OxyNeo. But is it too little, too late? Did the drug's maker low-ball the risks? Did they know their time-release miracle pill was really a time bomb of addiction, waiting to go off?