Canada’s Heroin Prescription Drug Treatment Program

The first North American country to enact a drug treatment program that provides prescription heroin is Canada. There are a number of European countries that have drug treatment programs designed to furnish heroin to addicts. Many of these programs have impressive results. When heroin addicts are supervised in a medical setting, there is a decreased chance they will engage in criminal activity or experience an overdose. New drug regulations have been approved that enable Canadian physicians to write a prescription for addicts to receive pharmaceutical-grade heroin. This program will only be offered to severe addicts who haven’t been able to succeed with traditional recovery programs.

New Rules
The new rules concerning the prescription of heroin are now in effect. Any Canadian physician can apply to Canada’s national health program known as Health Canada for medical grade heroin to prescribe to certain patients. Under the new rules, heroin users in the program are required to report to designated clinics up to three times a day. This is when they’ll be given an injection of prescription heroin in a medically supervised setting. The addicts are also offered other health services designed to help decrease their dependence on the drug over time. There is currently no restriction within the new rules to determine the length of time an addict can remain in the program. Each clinic is equipped with medication to handle any possible overdose situation.

Opioid Deaths
This new Canadian program is an attempt to deal with the increase in deaths resulting from opioid overdoses as well as long term effects of opiate abuse. Not every Canadian province maintains records of opioid deaths, but those that do have shown some disturbing trends. During the first six months of 2016, the number of opioid deaths in the province of British Columbia alone increased more than 74 percent from the same time in 2015.

A number of studies have shown that treating addicts with prescription heroin improves their chances of breaking the addiction. It is designed for those who have failed other drug treatment programs. A study was conducted in Canada during 2009. This study compared this new program to standard heroin treatment programs involving the drug methadone. It showed that patients with a very serious addiction had a better chance of staying with their treatment program, and a decreased chance of using illegal drugs when prescription heroin was part of the treatment.

The use of prescription heroin is approved to be offered only on a case-by-case basis. The Special Access Program is run by the Canadian government. It will approve each addict who applies using the new rules. When an addict is approved for the program, they will have it administered to them by properly trained and supervised medical staff with a syringe. It is very dangerous for addicts to use heroin that is purchased illegally. They can be given heroin that is of unknown strength. They could also use dirty syringes to inject the drug. This dramatically increases the risk of addicts contacting and spreading blood-borne diseases such as HIV, hepatitis and more.

Success In Other Countries
Prior to the new Canadian law being enacted, a review was done of similar programs in six different countries. The results provided convincing evidence that prescribing heroin as part of a carefully regulated drug treatment program is a very effective. It is especially effective for individuals who have been dependent on heroin for a number of years.

These type of programs are very popular with addicts. The rate of addicts who drop out of it is very low. Program participants are healthier than those in traditional heroin treatment programs. It also decreases the participation of addicts in criminal activities. This leads to a drastic decrease in the use of the criminal justice system.

The proponents of the new rules see this as a more humane method of dealing with addiction. It is a program that acknowledges the various factors that may lead to an individual abusing drugs. The supervision and support it provides heroin users establish important safety measures and a compassionate environment. It creates a situation where an addict is able to recover from a heroin addiction on their own terms. Research has shown that individuals with addictions come from very unstable environments. Heroin may be their only form of escape from their surroundings. When addicts are helped in a non-judgmental way, it provides them with the stability they need to make positive decisions and follow them for the long term.

Cost Effective
In the city of Vancouver, there is a prescription program. The cost to treat each individual client is over $20,000 annually. Should these addicts not have access to this type of treatment program, and be incarcerated or need to be treated for resulting health issues, it is much more expensive. It is estimated the costs associated with treating an addict using traditional methods is more than $34,000 annually.

Health Issue
It is anticipated that this new approach for treating heroin addiction will take away power and money from the drug gangs operating in Canada. It is a way for a heroin addict to treat their addiction and not turn to a life of crime to finance it. It is believed this legislation is a way for the Canadian government to deal with the country’s drug addiction problem as a health issue rather than something best left to law enforcement. Now a heroin addict will be able to look forward to being helped and not punished. With heroin access being from physicians rather than dealers, the number of deaths resulting from accidental overdoses will decrease dramatically. These overdoses are usually caused by heroin addicts getting drugs and not knowing the impurities it contains and more. There also seem to be reports of long term effects of opiates.

Only Maintenance
Many of the opponents of the new program believe it will only provide a form of maintenance for heroin addicts. They claim that even if it does provide a certain level of stability in the life of a heroin addict, they will remain addicted to the drug. It will only provide a legally acceptable way for them to obtain heroin. The opponents believe this program will not succeed in turning heroin addicts into productive members of Canadian society. They think it is not designed to treat the underlying issues associated with an individual starting a heroin addiction.