Severe addicts can now be prescribed legal heroin in Canada. Last week, Health Canada, the Canadian government's department for public health, lifted rules banning doctors from prescribing diacetylmorphine, which is pharmaceutical-grade heroin.
With Canada struggling with an opioid overdose epidemic much like the United States the decision has been lauded as an effective harm-reduction strategy by many Canadian doctors who have pushed for prescribed heroin for severe addicts for years.
To be clear, the Canadian government won't be giving out heroin to just anyone. Doctors must apply to Health Canada's special-access program before they can get prescriptions for patients, most of whom will be provided with the drug at no cost. Furthermore, prescribed heroin will only be available to the most severe addicts—patients who tried other options, such as methadone or other medically-assisted treatment, without success.
Supported by a "significant body of evidence," Health Canada wrote, "Treatment with diacetylmorphine in a comprehensive setting can lead to improved treatment outcomes and health benefits for these patients."
When the change was first proposed back in May, Health Canada noted, "Diacetylmorphine is permitted in a number of other jurisdictions, such as Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Switzerland, to support a small percentage of patients who have not responded to other treatment options, such as methadone and buprenorphine."
In 2014, the Providence Crosstown Clinic in Vancouver was one of the first in North America to legally prescribe diacetylmorphine outside of a clinical trial. According to The Globe and Mail, previous research found that chronic heroin addicts "who took prescription heroin were more likely to stay in treatment, reduce illegal drug use and avoid illegal activities."
Crosstown's lead physician Scott MacDonald told Vice News, that supervised, legal heroin use, unlike the dangerous sketchy criminal-controlled illicit drug trade, "gets [users] off the street and out of that destructive cycle of acquisition crime or sex trade work in order to get their fix."
Still, as MacDonald said back in May, "This is not the total solution, but it's part of the solution."