Canadian physicians are warning of the potential dangers of the prescription painkiller OxyContin following a high-profile case in which a Newfoundland and Labrador doctor was convicted of trafficking the potentially addictive narcotic.

On Monday, Dr. Sean Buckingham was convicted of five counts of sexual assault, six counts of trafficking painkillers such as OxyContin and lorazepam (sold under the name Ativan), and one count of assault.

Witnesses testified during the two-month trial that Buckingham provided them with drugs in exchange for money and sexual favours over a two-year period.

Dr. Lydia Hatcher of the OxyContin Task Force told Canada AM on Tuesday that the powerful pain medication can be easily abused.

"It is a very effective drug for pain and when used properly it actually isn't dangerous. The problem is when it gets in the wrong hands it can be a dangerous drug," she said from St. John's.

A study released last month by the Canadian Pain Society reveals that one in three Canadians now live with moderate to severe pain as an ongoing part of their lives. Sixteen per cent of Canadians live in constant pain while 20 per cent experience pain daily, the study says.

"When a person is prescribed this drug and it's used properly, the possibility of addiction is extremely low. Addiction occurs in a small per cent of the population and people who are at risk for a whole number of reasons," she said.

"When the drug is prescribed as it's supposed to be and used as it's supposed to be, you're not going to see patients misusing these kinds of drugs."

The investigation surrounding Buckingham, dubbed Operation Remedy, was aimed at probing the misuse and trafficking of prescription medications in the St. John's region.

"Police intelligence suggests that the bulk of OxyContin on the streets originates with prescriptions generated in the province," the OxyContin Task Force's 2004 final report reads.

"Since 2001, the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary has seen an increase in the number of pharmacy break and enters, armed robberies at pharmacies where the thieves are demanding OxyContin, break and enters at homes targeted for OxyContin, and personal robberies with violence for OxyContin."

Hatcher says most patients take their medication responsibly but she urges them to guard against potential theft and abuse.

"What I tell my patients who are taking these drugs is put them in a safe place, keep them locked. Don't tell people that you're taking them, don't make it public knowledge because you might be at risk for somebody coming and breaking into your home and taking them," she said.

A recent Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey shows that slightly more than one in five students say they've used other people's painkillers. More than three-quarters of those surveyed said they got the drugs from their homes.

Twenty-one per cent of students said they used Tylenol 3, Percocet, and OxyContin without prescription.

Hatcher recommends if patients need to discuss their medication with a pharmacist, be adamant that the discussion take place in a private area.

"I actually had a patient who was followed home having had a discussion with her pharmacist and somebody asked her to sell the drugs."

Buckingham was also found not guilty on four sexual assault charges in the Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court and was acquitted of two other drug trafficking charges. He was held in custody following the conviction and will return to court for sentencing Dec. 20.

With files from The Canadian Press