moved that Bill C-307, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (tamper resistance and abuse deterrence), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure to rise in House and debate my private member's bill, Bill C-307. Let me say to all members of Parliament that many times they can go many years, even a decade, before they have a private member's bill drawn, so obviously when they do have an ability to debate their own private member's bill, it is a real honour in this place.
This is an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substance Act (tamper resistance and abuse deterrence).
The issue of prescription drugs and illicit drug use has touched every riding in this country. It is an issue that, as hon. members know, we face in the communities we represent, an issue that has ravaged some communities, destroyed families, and has taken far too many lives.
Most tragically, it has taken a disproportionate number of young people, including young indigenous Canadians, from us. Every day we open the paper we see another death, or, this past week in Winnipeg, three or four deaths.
The intent of Bill C-307 is to enable the federal Minister of Health to require prescription medicine, specifically opioids, as defined under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, or the CDSA, to have abuse deterrent formulations and/or tamper-proof, tamper-resistant properties. By doing so it would make these drugs more difficult to crush, snort or inject, and reduce their potential for misuse, abuse, and diversion to our streets by criminals.
The bill will make it possible for Canada's Minister of Health to take immediate action whenever Canadians are being hurt or killed by a specific prescription drug.
We have all heard about the crisis of illicit fentanyl wreaking havoc in our communities. The Minister of Health, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, and our law enforcement agencies across Canada are addressing part of the problem. However, before some people, especially our youth, abuse these dangerous, illegal drugs, they are often exposed to these chemicals that can give them a powerful and addictive high by their tampering with legitimate fentanyl or legitimate opioids, but especially legitimate fentanyl patches, or a host of other prescriptions: codeine, morphine, OxyContin and others.
Some people who abuse opioid pain relievers, for example, do so by tampering with prescription opioid products by crushing the pills and snorting, liquefying, injecting, or ingesting these crushed and altered substances. Instead of the pill being digested or dissolved and releasing its payload of pain relief into the body as intended, as most pill forms of medicine, from digestive drugs to heart medicines, are designed to safely work, the abuser gets, with an eight to 12 hour dose of pain relief, a significant euphoria or a high in as little as eight to 10 minutes or less.
Abuse-deterrent or tamper-resistant technologies are evolving fast, and these advancements in medical science are absolutely exciting. Aside from making pills harder to crush, to snort, or to inject, companies are also making pills with antagonist formulations. I am not a scientist, but these pills may contain an active ingredient like Oxycontin or hydromorphone, but also naloxone. If someone can break the protective casing, manipulating the active ingredient or the opioid within the pill, for example, it will not cause a high because the naloxone would mitigate the effect.
It is amazing some of the science that is now being used in tamper-resistant or abuse-deterrent formulations. New drugs coming to the market are also in what are called pro-drug formulations, so the only way the opioid can be released is by digestion. If the pill is manipulated beforehand, its active ingredients are encased in a way that it makes them almost impossible to extract from the formulation or from the pill.
Moreover, some companies are investing in technology to stop patients from pill-popping these medications. Basically, once a pill is being broken down in someone's stomach, any others with active ingredients would be rendered inert; they would not work.
Still other technologies are being developed that introduce aversive agents in the same pill as an opioid. For example, naltrexone can be combined with an active opioid so any tampering or manipulation will precipitate symptoms of withdrawal, not the intended high that the abuser would seek.
The science changes things very quickly. In the crisis we are in, we need a government that can adapt as well. I can appreciate that my colleagues may be skeptical of some of the science or see this as some type of science fiction out there. Before I really started looking at this and studying it, I had no idea. I thought that tamper resistant meant it came in a package, but it is so beyond that. It is amazing what technology, innovation, and science have done to the point where now today we should be taking advantage of it.
In fact, just south of us, the Americans are taking advantage of it. The United States FDA has now approved seven of these products, which are having a dramatic impact in reducing levels of prescription opioid abuse. As well, the FDA and other bodies have conducted independent studies to attest to this fact. Even more promising is the fact that the FDA reports that over 30 such new ADF medicines are in development by both brand and generic manufacturers.
Because the molecules for all opioids, including oxycodone, codeine, fentanyl, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, and others are off patent, the competition in this area is fierce, which depresses any premiums manufacturers may want to charge. Cost is not an issue for these medications since the pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance, involving all FPT governments, can aggressively bulk buy and bulk reimburse them at a cost amenable to taxpayers.
If Bill C-307 were available to be used by Canada's Minister of Health, then whenever we found that a specific drug in the opioid class and beyond was being abused through physical manipulation, the minister could ensure that this particular drug only be dispensed in an abuse-deterrent or tamper-resistant form when it is available. These technologies should be the exception and not the rule in powerful pharmaceutical products.
Passing Bill C-307 would complement the work already undertaken by the previous government, and commendably accelerated by our current government in providing guidance to manufacturers this past March on how to bring these drugs to Canada to make abuse-deterrent label claims in Canada.
While it may surprise my colleagues in the House to compliment the government of the day, this issue is about public health. It is about saving lives. It is about doing the right thing. It is too big and too important for partisanship. It is too important to be critical of the science. We should all be encouraging the government to move on this.
As I mentioned earlier, all members of Parliament know about the waves of drug abuse that are impacting Canada and many other nations. Canadians are calling on government and health authorities to take action. Bill C-307 is one answer to that call. It is an answer that would be an effective, upstream harm reduction intervention to prevent abuse in the pharmaceuticals before it can occur. It is a ready complement to other downstream measures being taken by public health authorities, first responders, addiction workers, and law enforcement. I am hopeful my colleagues will agree that Bill C-307 would provide a non-partisan and practical measure for Canadians.
All members of the House were pleased when the Minister of Health took action this past summer to further control six ingredients known to be used in the illicit drug trade. I thank her for that action. I was working on this private member's bill and I heard that she was taking action on fentanyl. Although it did not cover it to the extent that I would have liked, I commended the government for doing that.
Bill C-307, though, is a very small part of legislation that was tabled in the House by the previous government in the final days of the 41st Parliament.
In November 2013, the Senate committee on social affairs, science and technology issued a unanimous all-party report and recommended that Health Canada pursue abuse-deterrent formulation technologies and regulatory change.
In April 2014, the House of Commons health committee issued a unanimous report on the federal government's role in prescription drug abuse. Three of the recommendations supported tamper-resistant and abuse-deterrent formulations. In fact, the opposition Liberal Party at the time said that we did not go far enough as a government on the issue of tamper resistance and abuse deterrence. I encourage all members to read those reports.
This is an expeditious regulatory change that can save lives.
I am aware that the current government continues to work towards a new drug strategy. We are on the eve of a national opioid summit this weekend, with many experts drawn from across Canada. I am a member that will be attending that. I commend the government again for having this summit. Yet I also believe that Bill C-307 would allow all members of Parliament to take some action together and immediately.
Bill C-307 is an opportunity for us to get behind a measure right now. We look forward to what the health minister will propose, but we do not have to wait. We can do some things right now.
I want to thank the employees of the House of Commons who help members of Parliament with private members' bills. I have had a great deal of help drawing up Bill C-307, and I am following much of their advice. The final two sections of Bill C-307 would allow the minister an appropriate amount of time to prepare the necessary regulations. I have accepted their legal advice that I have received to establish the timeframe. Apparently, it is a reasonable time period and there are precedents, but I am not a lawyer.
Outside the House, there is considerable support for abuse deterrence and tamper resistance to be applied to prescription opioids. Many companies, brand, generic, and start-up, with both the United States and Canadian roots, are in various stages of research and development on their own products.
Fifteen industry members of the Abuse Deterrent Coalition wrote to Canada's Minister of Health in support of abuse-deterrent and tamper-resistance formulations so they would be able to apply them across the entire class of opioid medications. Also, 37 of Canada's leading pain and addiction specialists have written Canada's health minister in support of abuse-deterrent formulations.
Many Canadian organizations have commented on the value of abuse-deterrent and tamper-resistant formulations. Some of them support these formulations as part of a comprehensive approach to addressing the issue of prescription drug abuse, misuse, and diversion.
I am not opposed to a comprehensive approach, but every weekend when we pick up the paper and see more and more deaths, we ask ourselves what we can do right now. This bill is one of those things.
Some of those associations and groups that support this type of technology, tamper-proof and abuse-deterrent formulations are: the Canadian Medical Association, Canadian Pharmacists Association, Canadian Association of Chief of Police, Canadian Public Health Association, Paramedic Association of Canada, Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, Centre of Addiction and Mental Health, Canadian Society of Palliative Care Physicians, Centres for Pain Management, and I could go on with the list.
The abilities of the government to regulate tamper resistance exists, to some extent, right now through a general power. However, Bill C-307 would provide a more specific power for our Minister of Health.
We are in the midst of a public health crisis when it comes to prescription and illicit drug misuse, abuse, and diversion. My time in this place, 16 years, has taught me that in the life of each Parliament, there are rare occasions when we come together to support a worthy private member's initiative. I have been encouraged in this term, as I have seen many of those happen.
I believe Bill C-307 affords us this opportunity to confront, combat, and curtail prescription opioid abuse in a meaningful way, while not impacting patients who benefit from these medicines.
Let us do the right thing, the right thing together and the right thing for our country, by supporting and passing Bill C-307.