Pubdate: Mon, 16 May 2016
Source: Province, The (CN BC)
Page: 4
Copyright: 2016 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Tiffany Crawford


Health officials in B.C. are applauding the federal government for
taking steps to allow doctors to prescribe heroin for certain patients.

Health Canada said Friday it will propose a regulatory amendment to
allow access to prescription heroin, or diacetylmorphine, under Health
Canada's special-access program.

"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," Health Canada said
in a release.

Diacetylmorphine is permitted in other countries, including Germany,
the Netherlands, Denmark and Switzerland, to support a small number of
patients who haven't responded to other treatment options.

Providence Health Care, which operates the Crosstown Clinic in
Vancouver, and the Pivot Legal Society welcomed the announcement, and
said in a joint statement that allowing doctors to prescribe
pharmaceutical-grade heroin is an important step in the treatment of
chronic opioid dependence.

"Allowing access to diacetylmorphine, or medical heroin, to patients
who need it, ensures that life-saving treatments get delivered to
vulnerable people suffering from chronic opioid use," the statement

Providence said the law would allow doctors to consider requests for
access to drugs for patients with serious or life-threatening
conditions when conventional treatments have failed.

Providence, along with a group of patients, filed a constitutional
challenge in 2014 with the Supreme Court of B.C. and won a temporary
injunction that allowed the Crosstown Clinic, in Vancouver's Downtown
Eastside, to dispense medical heroin to existing patients, who were
previously participants in a clinical study.

The Study to Assess Longer-term Opioid Medication Effectiveness, or
SALOME, recruited 202 heroin users who had a documented drug addiction
for at least five years. The users were randomly divided into two
groups and given syringes filled with pharmaceutically prepared
hydromorphone, the opioid pain medication sold under the brand name
Dilaudid, or diacetylmorphine, the active ingredient in heroin.

Requests by the clinic to keep administering the medical heroin to
participants after the studies led to legal conflicts with the former
Conservative government, which had taken a hard line against allowing
prescription heroin. The Conservatives claimed it was in direct
opposition to the government's anti-drug policy and violated the
intent of the program.

Crosstown Clinic physician Scott MacDonald has said providing heroin
as medication is cheaper for society than the legal and medical price
of drug addiction. He said a single drug-addicted person costs
taxpayers at least $45,000 a year in petty crime, policing, courts,
jail time and health care, while administering either medical heroin
or hydromorphone in Crosstown's supervised clinic costs about $27,000
a patient a year, mostly in staff wages.  
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