Pubdate: Wed, 21 Oct 2015
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2015 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Andrea Woo
Page: S2


Liberal government could clear path for Conservative-blocked
initiatives such as supervised injection sites and prescription heroin

Health and legal experts are cautiously optimistic that a newly
elected Liberal government will clear roadblocks to harm-reduction
programs, such as supervised injection sites and prescription heroin,
which clashed with Conservative ideals and were stymied by Stephen
Harper's government.

Despite international research that has shown these measures reduce
crime and other associated harms, the outgoing Conservative government
denounced such programs, maintaining that "harm elimination" should be
the goal. In 2013, it banned doctors from prescribing heroin and last
year introduced legislation that made it much more difficult for a
community service provider to open a harm-reduction site.

Since then, courts have sided with both harm-reduction measures - most
notably Vancouver's Insite supervised injection site, which was the
first of its kind in North America. A constitutional challenge to the
prescription heroin issue is ongoing.

Evan Wood, co-director of the Urban Health Research Initiative at the
B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, described the relationship
with the outgoing government as "frustrating."

"I think they did have a sincere interest in trying to reduce the
harms of addiction, but there was clearly a disconnect between science
and decision-making in this area," Dr. Wood said.

Bill C-2, which received royal assent over the summer and imposed a
host of new regulations on prospective supervised injection sites, has
stalled plans for facilities in such cities as Victoria, Montreal and
Ottawa, while also raising concerns that Insite could run into
problems staying open, despite its previous court wins. Vancouver's
Dr. Peter Centre, which quietly offered supervised injection services
even before Insite's opening, applied in February for the federal
exemption needed to operate legitimately, but it never heard back.

Meanwhile, the Liberals campaigned on a promise of "evidence-based
decision-making," and prime-minister-designate Justin Trudeau has
spoken in support of Insite.

Hedy Fry, a long-time MP who was most recently Liberal health critic,
said her party will revisit Bill C-2, also called the Respect for
Communities Act.

"I have never, as a physician, understood how you could ignore good,
solid scientific evidence and data and successful outcomes in other
parts of the world," said Ms. Fry, who is also a medical doctor.

"For me, this is clear evidence. Addiction is a public-health issue,
so what is it that we're doing here? Surely if you care about the
lives of all Canadians, you don't separate Canadians into a group of
people whose lives are worthless and a group of people whose lives are

Mr. Trudeau has also expressed support for an ambitious madein-B.C.
HIV/AIDS target that was dismissed by the Conservative Party.

Adrienne Smith, a health and drug policy lawyer with the Pivot Legal
Society, which is representing addicts receiving prescription heroin,
said a new health minister could simply "allow prescription heroin to
be used as medicine, as it should be."

She added that the minister could also make widely available naloxone,
a drug that reverses heroin and other opioid overdoses within minutes
with no abuse potential, and repeal other Conservative-legislated
mandatory minimum sentences, in particular those for non-violent drug

"I would be thrilled if that happened," Ms. Smith said, "but until
there is a clear shift in Canadian drug policy by a newly appointed
minister of health, all of Pivot's litigation will continue."

A B.C. Supreme Court judge last year granted an injunction to a group
of severe heroin addicts exiting a clinical trial, allowing them to
continue receiving prescription heroin while the larger constitutional
challenge is before the courts.

There are currently 104 people receiving the drug in a clinical
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