Nevada Senate Considers Trailblazing Heroin-Assisted Treatment Pilot Program

By John Lavitt 03/30/15

TREATMENT PROFESSIONAL NEWS: If adopted, the new program will be the first of its kind in the United States.

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The Nevada State Senate is on the verge of breaking new ground by considering the possibility of a pioneering heroin-assisted treatment program. Although such programs have reduced overdoses, disease, and crime in numerous first-world countries, any proposal for heroin-assisted treatment has been rejected in the United States. Nevada Senate Bill 275 is one of the first legitimate attempts at funding such a program by either state or federal government.

In March of 2015, Nevada State Senator Richard Segerblom introduced Senate Bill 275. The groundbreaking legislation would fund a four-year heroin-assisted treatment pilot project. SB 275 would task the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health of the Department of Health and Human Services with modeling the heroin-assisted treatment pilot program on the successful programs in other countries.

Also known as heroin maintenance, heroin-assisted treatment refers to the supervised administration by a doctor of pharmaceutical-grade heroin (diacetylmorphine) to chronic heroin users. The program would start with a small group of users who have repeatedly failed to respond to traditional forms of treatment, including methadone, naltrexone, and buprenorphine.

Senate Bill 275 is considered radical because the United States has ignored this successful method of treatment. Since punitive approaches have failed as the opioid epidemic continues to rage across the country, Senator Segerblom believes a new approach needs to be embraced. As he explained when questioned about the bill, “The War on Drugs is over, we lost ... Now it’s time to face reality and look for new solutions. SB 275 is one of those solutions.”

Still, despite the need for such a program, resistance is entrenched, as many do not consider treating drug use with the drug an option. This remains true despite the fact that heroin-assisted treatment programs have been remarkably successful in Germany, Canada, and the United Kingdom. 

If the bill is passed, the program is slated to begin treating patients by Jan. 1, 2017. Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, hopes the heroin-assisted treatment bill passes and breaks new ground in national efforts to stop opioid abuse and the devastation left in its wake.

As Nadelmann explained in a recent interview, “Heroin-assisted treatment has proven effective in reducing crime, disease and death everywhere it’s been tried ... What’s more, it helps precisely those people who have tried everything else to overcome their addiction and failed. All that stands in the way of starting such programs in our country is backward thinking and drug war ideology.”

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles with his beautiful wife, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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