Canadian drug addicts will soon be able to receive safe, medical grade heroin from their doctors after the government approved new regulations allowing the prescription of the substance. Diacetylmorphine, as pharmaceutical heroin is referred to, will be made available only to those who have unsuccessfully attempted addiction treatments like rehab or opioid substitution therapy, with the program designed to decrease the harms associated with drug use.
The move is a clear indication of the Canadian government’s intention to start treating drug addiction as a health issue rather than a criminal one, and demonstrates a commitment to helping those who suffer from heroin dependence, as opposed to punishing them. By allowing habitual users to obtain their supply from doctors rather than dealers, the scheme should help to reduce the number of accidental overdose deaths, which often result from the fact that street drugs are cut with a host of impurities, meaning consumers are often unaware of what they are actually taking or how strong it is.
At the same time, the new law is likely to remove money and power from the hands of criminal gangs, while also allowing drug users to get hold of heroin without having to resort to crime in order to pay for it. In addition, the supervised use of clean needles should help to prevent the spread of diseases like HIV and hepatitis C.
Though this is the first time that prescription heroin will be allowed on a national level, the scheme does have a precedent in the form of a clinic in Vancouver called Crosstown, which received permission under a special court order to begin supplying the drug to a small group of addicts in 2005. Since then, the clinic has improved the lives of its 52 patients, all of whom are now reported to be healthier than when they were using street drugs, while also having cut down or ceased their involvement in criminal activities.
Similar legislation is currently in place in a handful of European countries, with the likes of Portugal and Switzerland allowing addicts to take their drugs in supervised injection rooms. However, no such services are currently authorized in the US.