Canada has made a big change when it comes to treating severe cases of addiction. For the people who are more resistant to conventional approaches, physicians will now be able to prescribe heroin (as diacetylmorphine). The government says it’s important for doctors and other health care professionals to have more options in treating drug addiction. Long term users, such as patients who have been on opioids for decades, can respond well to this form of treatment.
The most immediate effect from the new regulations will likely involve two locations in Vancouver. Providence Crosstown Clinic, led by Dr. Scott MacDonald, is known for being the only spot in North America with a “heroin maintenance” program. About 50 addicts show up two to three times a day to get medical heroin, and a nurse watches over them as they take it. The other Vancouver location, Insite, is a controversial injection site. Addicts can show up to be monitored while they take their drugs. This can drastically cut overdose rates, which has become a crisis in Canada and the United States. Four community health centers in Ottawa are discussing the possibility of opening supervised injection sites.
Naturally, this is a controversial approach to addiction. But the results have been positive so far. Many patients are healthier, more productive members of society, who are less likely to become embroiled in illegal activities. The dropout rate is low and they’re less likely to buy street drugs, which can be laced with deadly substances. “Our policy is to take heroin out of the hands of addicts and not put it in their arms,” said one member of Parliament, who opposes the program. Dr. Scott MacDonald has argued that “severe opioid use disorder is a chronic disease that needs to be managed long term, like Type-2 diabetes or hypertension.” Eight other countries have heroin maintenance programs, and expansion may be critical to getting aid to those who need it.