Prescription Heroin Now Available in Vancouver
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Prescription heroin has arrived in Vancouver, where doctors will begin administering the drugs this week. Doctors at the city’s Providence Medical Clinic, where a shipment of the drug arrived last week, received permission to provide doses of the drug to a group of 120 severe addicts.
Patients will visit the clinic two or three times a day, at set times, where they'll receive the drug and sterilized supplies to help inject the heroin. For 20 minutes, the patients sit in a lounge-like area and are monitored for adverse effects.
The trial has overcome a battle with the country’s Health Minister, Rona Ambrose, who opposes prescription heroin. Ambrose tried to block doctors who had been prescribing heroin within a study—The Study to Assess Longer-Term Opioid Medication Effectiveness—from prescribing the drug outside of the trial. They sought authorization to continue prescribing it to keep addicts who did not respond to more common treatments, such as methadone, from illicit heroin use and associated harms.
In October 2013, Ambrose introduced regulations to make prescribing the drug outside of a clinical trial illegal. Since then, about 30 of the severely addicted patients left the Providence doctors’ care, some relapsing into illicit heroin use. But David Byres, vice president of Acute Clinical Programs at Providence Health Care, said the clinic is optimistic it can re-engage them.
Ambrose ultimately lost the battle, as B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson granted the injunction sought by Providence and five plaintiffs. Hinkson agreed that the risks associated with severe heroin addiction “will be reduced if [the addicts] receive injectable diacetylmorphine (the chemical name of heroin) treatment from Providence physicians.”
It’s no surprise that Vancouver is the setting for the groundbreaking experiment, as it is one of the most progressive cities in respect to drug policy in North America. The city’s harm reduction approach has effectively reduced illegal drug use, while improving public health and safety.
Prescription heroin produced similar results in Europe, where it has been in practice since as early as 1993.