Pubdate: Mon, 16 May 2016
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Page: A8
Copyright: 2016 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Tiffany Crawford
Note: with a file from Erin Ellis

B.C. Health Officials Applaud Move To Help Those With Chronic

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

Health Canada announced Friday that 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 news release.

Diacetylmorphine is permitted in a number of other countries,
including Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Switzerland, to
support a small percentage of patients who have not 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. 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

The special access program considers requests for emergency access to
drugs for patients with serious or life-threatening conditions when
conventional treatments have failed, are unsuitable, or are

The Crosstown Clinic's physician, Scott MacDonald, has said that
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.

- - With a file from Erin Ellis  
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