Pubdate: Sat, 14 May 2016
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2016 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Andrea Woo
Page: A3


Health Canada has moved to allow doctors to apply for special access 
to prescribe pharmaceutical-grade heroin to severe addicts, which 
would overturn a ban imposed by the previous Conservative government.

The federal department said in a statement issued on Friday that a 
"significant body of evidence" supports the medical use of 
diacetylmorphine, also known as pharmaceutical-grade heroin.

"Diacetylmorphine is permitted in a number of other jurisdictions, 
such as Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Switzerland, to 
support a small percentage of patients who have not responded to 
other treatment options, such as methadone and buprenorphine," the 
statement said.

Liberal Health Minister Jane Philpott, a doctor, has emphasized that 
her government will take an evidence-based approach to drug policy. 
In January, Dr. Philpott toured and gave a stamp of approval to 
Insite, Vancouver's supervised injection site .

Doctors in Vancouver drew attention to the issue of prescription 
heroin three years ago after clinical trials found that, for a few 
entrenched addicts who had failed repeatedly with more traditional 
treatments, prescription heroin administered in a supervised, medical 
setting is safe and effective.

Those receiving prescription heroin experienced physical and 
mental-health improvements, were more likely to stay in treatment and 
reduce illegal drug use and criminal activity than those on methadone.

As people began completing the clinical trials, doctors applied for, 
and received, special permission under Health Canada's Special Access 
Programme (SAP) to continue prescribing the drug to them. The SAP 
allows doctors access to non-marketed or otherwise unapproved drugs 
for patients with serious or life-threatening conditions.

Health Canada approved the applications in September, 2013.

Rona Ambrose, then Conservative health minister, introduced new 
regulations to ban doctors from prescribing "dangerous drugs" such as 
heroin, cocaine and LSD. The trial participants launched a 
constitutional challenge and continued to receive prescription heroin 
under an interlocutory injunction.

Under Health Canada's planned change, heroin would once again be 
allowed under the SAP.

Scott MacDonald, physician lead at the clinic that ran the trials, 
called Health Canada's plan a welcome step, but said access to 
prescription heroin should be improved even further.

"This is not the total solution, but it's part of the solution," he said Friday.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom