Mr. Speaker, before I begin my remarks on this piece of legislation, I would first like to take a moment to discuss the current crisis that is facing our nation.
Across this country we are facing a national emergency that has cost lives. This tragedy is something that I think all members agree is completely unacceptable and one that we need resources and initiatives to address.
Earlier today the Minister of Health, along with the Minister of Public Safety and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice , met with the premier of British Columbia and her cabinet colleagues to discuss the crisis in British Columbia. The province's delegation provided parliamentarians and Canadians with a glimpse of the real human impact of this crisis. This meeting built on a trip that the Minister of Health made to Vancouver last week where she met with local first responders, the mayor, provincial ministers, and the provincial task force addressing the crisis.
How we go about addressing this crisis is incredibly important. We do not want to create potential harm or unintended effects with well-intentioned ideas. This is why any action that the federal government takes must be based on sound evidence. With this thought in mind, I would like to speak to Bill C-307, an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, tamper resistance and abuse deterrence.
Insofar as the intention behind the bill is to address the opioid crisis, I share the member's concerns. The minister, I, and our government commend the member for wanting to work to address this crisis; however, while I appreciate my hon. colleague speaking about this, unfortunately our government cannot support Bill C-307.
As a brief reminder to members, in the case of pills intended to be swallowed, tamper-resistant properties could, for example, make them more difficult to be crushed or dissolved. If tamper-resistant regulations were put in place, it would mean that only tamper-resistant versions of certain drugs or classes of drugs could be sold in Canada.
I would like to make the point that we strongly support tamper-resistant products and continue to encourage pharmaceutical companies to continue to make progress and invest in this technology. We also know that any strategy to address opioids needs to be comprehensive and that there is no silver bullet to address this issue.
Our government acknowledges that making tamper-resistant products mandatory has an intuitive appeal. However, Health Canada's review of the evidence concluded that the introduction of tamper-resistant versions of one drug does not reduce the overall harm of opioid misuse. This is a concern that was also echoed by many witnesses studying the opioid crisis who appeared before the Standing Committee on Health.
These conclusions came about due to a number of factors, and the minister's decision not to move forward with these regulations at this time was not taken lightly.
I should make the point here that the minister already has the ability to do what this legislation intends, under regulation, and at this time the risks outweighs the benefits. Regardless of this legislation, if evidence changes, the Minister of Health will already have the ability to take regulatory action.
However, the evidence today points to several things that do not make it possible to support the bill. First, tamper-resistance has not been shown to prevent the most common form of misuse, which is swallowing intact tablets. Second, the small number of individuals who choose to crush or dissolve a drug are more likely to switch to non-tamper-resistant drugs, including illicit drugs, than to stop misusing drugs altogether. This is also known as the balloon effect. These people may even be at increased risk of harm or death if they switch to using street drugs such as heroin or illegal fentanyl.
Beyond the minimal impact that requiring tamper-resistance would have on opioid misuse, such regulations could also negatively impact patients who legitimately need access to these drugs. I would also stress that mandatory tamper-resistant formulations primarily benefit the patent-holder. New tamper-resistant formulations can be patented and sold at substantially higher costs than their generic equivalents. Passing regulations requiring pharmaceutical companies to only produce tamper-resistant forms of their products would increase the cost to patients and provincial governments, which in many cases pay for their prescription drugs.
These extra costs are estimated to run into millions of dollars if only one drug, OxyContin, is legally required to be tamper resistant. Therefore, the minimal potential benefits simply do not outweigh the risks and the costs.
I would also like to note that tamper-resistance technology is not sufficiently developed to cover the entire class of opioids, some of which come in the forms of patches, sprays, or injectable liquids.
As members can see, it simply is not in the public interest to move forward with regulations requiring drugs to have tamper-resistant properties.
This is not to say that Health Canada is not supportive of drug companies voluntarily including tamper-resistant features in their products. That is why Health Canada released a guidance document for all opioid manufacturers that will help guide them in making their products tamper resistant, should they desire to do so.
As I said earlier, over the next two days, the Minister of Health will be hosting a summit on opioids to bring together experts, patient groups, governments, and regulators to discuss the current crisis and identify actions for moving forward, building on our five-point plan announced earlier this year.
Other actions to save lives have also been taken. We are switching the status of naloxone and improving a user-friendly nasal spray version of naloxone following an expedited review. We will also be proposing a variety of regulatory changes, including requiring both a prescription for low-dose codeine products and new warning stickers to be placed on dispensed opioids. We will be approving properly established, managed, and community-led supervised consumption sites. We will be proposing regulations to control the precursors of fentanyl. We will be allowing physicians of certain patients to apply for special access to heroin-assisted treatment under the special access program. Also we will be supporting the private member's bill, Bill C-224, the good Samaritan drug overdose act, proposed by the member for Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, a bill that would save lives, as Bill C-224 would encourage people witnessing an overdose to call 911 by providing immunity from minor drug possession charges.
In conclusion, I would like to once again reiterate our government's support of any measures grounded in sound evidence that would help address this troubling public health crisis, and once again, I want to thank the hon. colleague for raising this issue.
As previously stated, if forthcoming evidence demonstrates that there would be a positive net benefit impact from requiring drugs to be tamper resistant, there are already existing authorities within the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to move forward with regulations.