A stash of Oxycontin was stolen from a downtown pharmacy on Wednesday night and now the company that makes the drug is replacing it with a pill that is harder to abuse.

A thief hit the Shoppers Drug Mart on 17 Ave and 8 St S.W. and made off with an undisclosed amount of Oxycontin.

The suspect is described as:

  • Dark male
  • About 183 cm or six feet tall
  • Slim build
  • Blue eyes and reddish-blonde facial hair

Oxycontin is often targeted in pharmacy robberies, either by addicts or by thieves who sell to addicts.

The makers of OxyNEO, the drug replacing painkiller OxyContin in Canada as of Thursday, say the new pill will prevent abuse -- but doctors and people whose lives have been affected by the drug say the new pill is just as addictive.

The drug's makers, Purdue Pharma Canada, announced plans to replace OxyContin in February. Its replacement, OxyNEO, contains the same quantity of active ingredient oxycodone, but is harder to crush.

But while it may deter addicts who have been crushing or melting the pills in order to inject or snort the drug, the change will do little to deter the many addicts who ingest it in pill form, Dr. David Juurlink said Thursday.

"People can be addicted to (opioids) and OxyNEO by taking it by mouth," Juurlink, head of clinical pharmacology and toxicology at Toronto's Sunnybrook hospital, told CTV's Canada AM. "The notion that this new formulation is going to make a major difference in this problem is not correct."

Oxycodone is from the opioid family of drugs, which also includes codeine, heroin and morphine. It is prescribed for pain relief, but can quickly become addictive with extended use. Since OxyContin's introduction in the mid-1990s, it has become a popular street drug and a leading cause of opioid-related overdoses, killing 300 to 400 people in Ontario each year.

Juurlink says the switch to OxyNEO is a step toward making the drug more difficult to abuse, but is only one piece of the solution.

"It's a multi-faceted problem," he explained. "The crux of the problem (is that) we don't have very good treatments for pain generally."

Those that are the most effective are also the most addictive, something many doctors didn't realize during OxyContin's early days on the market, he said.

"In the late 1980s, 1990s, and into the 2000s, doctors became very comfortable prescribing opioids," he said. "Undoing what has happened over the last 25 years is going to be very difficult. Doctors continue to prescribe these drugs despite knowing (of their dangers)."

The decision followed years of concerns about the drug's strongly addictive properties, and came just as several Canadian provinces announced they would no longer fund oxycodone-based drugs.

(With files from ctv.ca)