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Reformulation of controlled-release oxycodone and pharmacy dispensing patterns near the US–Canada border


Background — In August 2010, a tamper-resistant formulation of controlled-release oxycodone (OxyContin-OP) was introduced in the United States but not in Canada. The authors’ objective was to determine whether introduction of OxyContin-OP in the United States influenced prescription volumes for the original controlled-release oxycodone formulation (OxyContin) at Canadian pharmacies near the international border.

Methods — The authors conducted a population-based, serial, cross-sectional study of prescriptions dispensed from pharmacies in the 3 cities with the highest volume of US–Canada border crossings in Ontario: Niagara Falls, Windsor and Sarnia. The authors analyzed data on all outpatient prescriptions for OxyContin dispensed by Canadian pharmacies near each border crossing between 2010 Apr. 1 and 2012 Feb. 29. We calculated and compared monthly prescription rates, adjusted per 1000 population and stratified by tablet strength.

Results — The number of tablets dispensed near 4 border crossings in the 3 Canadian cities remained stable over the study period. However, the rate of dispensing at pharmacies near the Detroit–Windsor Tunnel increased roughly 4-fold between August 2010 and February 2011, from 505 to 1969 tablets per 1000 population. By April 2011, following warnings to prescribers and pharmacies regarding drug-seeking behaviour, the dispensing rate declined to 1683 tablets per 1000 population in this area. By November 2011, the rate had returned to levels observed in early 2010. Our analyses suggest that 242 075 excess OxyContin tablets were dispensed near the Detroit–Windsor Tunnel between August 2010 and October 2011.

Conclusions — Prescribing of the original formulation of controlled-release oxycodone rose substantially near a major international border crossing following the introduction of a tamper-resistant formulation in the United States. It is possible that the restriction of this finding to the area surrounding the Detroit–Windsor Tunnel reflects specific characteristics of this border crossing, including its high traffic volume, direct access to the downtown core and drug trafficking patterns in the Detroit area. The findings highlight the potential impact of cross-border differences in medication availability on drug-seeking behaviour.



Gomes T, Paterson JM, Juurlink DN, Dhalla IA, Mamdani MM. Open Med. 2012; 6(4):e141-5. Epub 2012 Nov 13.

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