TORONTO - Ontario has passed legislation aimed at curbing the abuse of the highly addictive painkiller OxyContin and other prescription drugs.

The province plans to launch a new tracking system that would monitor prescription narcotics and other controlled substances.

They include painkillers such as oxycodone, morphine and codeine, as well as stimulants and sedatives like Ritalin, Valium and phenobarbital.

The province already has a database to track drugs prescribed under the public program that funds medications for seniors, welfare recipients and the disabled.

The legislation allows the government to expand the system to cover all drugs dispensed under both public and private drug plans.

Accidental deaths due to opioid use in Ontario have soared over the past couple of decades and, according to one study, claim more lives each year than HIV.

The expanded system would send out an alert if someone tried to get the drugs from several doctors or tried to fill prescriptions at several pharmacies, said Health Minister Deb Matthews.

It will also identify doctors and pharmacists who are prescribing or dispensing large amounts of drugs, which could lead to police stepping in.

The government plans to talk to doctors, nurses and pharmacists about appropriate prescribing and dispensing practices, as well as new national guidelines regarding opioids that were released last May.

Matthews has also promised to launch new initiatives to educate patients and youth about the dangers of prescription drug abuse and expand treatments for addicts as part of the government's overall strategy.

Ontario, which has seen prescriptions for oxycodone-containing drugs skyrocket 900 per cent since 1991, isn't the only province trying to tackle the problem.

Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have also proposed legislation to monitor narcotics.

Nova Scotia is the only province with a program that includes monitoring, education and support for patients and health care professionals. New Brunswick is currently developing a similar program that would establish an electronic network to share a patient's drug history with health-care providers.

British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba have established a triplicate prescription system that monitors the use of certain drugs prone to misuse and abuse, Jensen said.

Under that system, each prescription has three copies: one for the prescriber, one for the pharmacist and one sent to the governing body and manually entered into a database.