As nations the world over struggle to address drug addiction and drug overdose deaths, Canada joins some European countries in making prescription heroin available as an opioid addiction treatment for those who haven’t responded to other treatment options.
No, Health Canada will not be handing out syringes filled with heroin at treatment centers to any and every opioid addict who walks through the doors. What the Canadian government did approve on Sept. 7, 2016 is the use of prescription heroin for those with severe addictions that have not responded to the standard treatment options.
Physicians who wish to participate in the program will have to apply under the federal special access program to be able to write a prescription for heroin, or more precisely, diacetylmorphine – the medical name for pharmaceutical-grade heroin.
In reality, this change to the Canadian Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, but rather a lifting of a ban placed on prescription heroin by the former Conservative administration. Canada is not the only nation to have such a program. Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands have similar programs.
Health Canada’s decision to lift the three-year-old ban came in response to the drug addiction and drug overdose problems that country is facing, and on evidence-based results from an ongoing trial using prescription heroin to treat 110 study participants court-ordered to the program in Vancouver. The addicts who took part in the study each had an average length of opioid abuse of 26 years or more, with an average number of previous addiction treatments numbering over 11. Results from the limited study showed that treatment with prescription heroin for these sever addicts was more successful than that of treatment with methadone.
Terry Lake, British Columbia’s health minister whose term will soon expire and for which he will not seek re-election, was buoyed by Health Canada’s decision. Lake referred to Canada’s heroin problem as being “epidemic,” and something for which all necessary tools should be available to use to help addicts regain control of their lives. Lake stated:
“We need to not limit ourselves and we need to keep our minds open,” Lake continued. “We know that the war on drugs has largely failed over the last 50 years, and so we do need different options available to help people regain control of their lives.”
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