Health Canada wants medical-grade heroin for addicts
A man prepares heroin to be injected at the Insite safe injection clinic in Vancouver, B.C., on May 11, 2011. (Darryl Dyck / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Josh Dehaas, CTVNews.ca
Published Friday, May 13, 2016 8:47PM EDT
Health Canada says it wants the federal government to change regulations to allow doctors to prescribe medical-grade heroin to addicts.
“A significant body of scientific evidence supports the medical use of diacetylmorphine, also known as pharmaceutical-grade heroin, for the treatment of chronic relapsing opioid dependence,” the department said in a news release issued Friday.
Many addictions experts have been calling on Canada to join countries including Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland in allowing the drug to be delivered to a small number of addicts who don’t respond to alternative treatments such as methadone.
The Conservatives has long opposed this approach, while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have suggested they may be open to the idea.
The regulations that Health Canada wants changed were put in place by Conservative Health Minister Rona Ambrose in 2013, after a small group of addicts in Vancouver demanded continued access to prescription heroin that they had been receiving through the government’s Special Access Programme.
Some Liberal MPs, including Vancouver’s Hedy Fry – a former doctor – suggested the prescription heroin exemptions for addicts should be allowed to continue, citing success with heroin maintenance treatment in Europe and Australia.
“This would help these people to get off the drug eventually and save their lives, because if they go back on the street, they're back to petty crime and to injections of heroin that can kill them,” Fry told the Health Committee at the time.
Health Minister Jane Philpott, who is also a doctor, has said she is supportive of an evidence-based drug policy, but has not clarified whether she supports prescription heroin.
“I'm a person who really believes that people who find themselves in the position of having an addiction to illicit substances like heroin need to be treated from the perspective of a public health problem, because it is a health problem,” Philpott told the Health Committee in April.
Minister Philpott told the committee that she believes “it's really important for us, as a country, to make sure we address the very serious opioid and addiction crisis across this country.”
The Health Canada proposal comes just days after British Columbia’s health minister said the province is on track for a record number of overdose deaths in the province. There have been more than 250 this year, half of which have been linked to the drug fentanyl, which is sometimes used by addicts as a substitute for street heroin.
Health Canada says that stakeholders and members of the public have 30 days to provide feedback on the proposal.