23 November 2014
Doctors in Vancouver, Canada, have become the first medics in North America to administer prescription heroin to drug addicts. The treatment will only be given to a group of patients who failed to respond to traditional therapies.
“For this group the addiction is so severe that no other treatment has been effective,” David Byres, vice president of acute clinical programs at Providence Health Care, told Canadian media.
“The goal is stabilization,” The Globe and Mail Newspaper cited Byres as saying.
The program will be performed in Providence Crosstown Clinic in Canadian city.
Byres added that the treatment is only prescribed for those patients for whom traditional therapies such as methadone have failed to work at least 11 times.
Canadian doctors are trying the treatment on a group of 202 patients, of which 120 have received diacetylmorphine (heroin) prescriptions.
However, only 26 addicts will get their first heroin treatment next week, as so far there are only enough drugs for that number of people.
According to Byres, a doctor should write a prescription and submit an application to the federal Special Access Program (SAP). When the form is approved, then the clinic receives the drug for the patient.
The average cost of one patient’s treatment is $27,000 per year, said Byres, adding that it is covered by the clinic.
“When they come into the clinic, not only do they receive treatment for their addiction; they receive primary care or medical treatment, they can get counseling, they can get mental health care,” Byres said.
The procedure will be highly controlled with patients having to visit the clinic three times a day to receive their doses at scheduled time in the morning, afternoon, and evening, said Dr. Scott MacDonald, lead physician at Crosstown Clinic.
“It is a difficult therapy to take,” MacDonald said. “People need to come to this clinic three times a day in order to get their medication.” Also the patients will be divided into eight groups.
Nurses will perform an initial assessment. Then a patient will receive their dose of diacetylmorphine and a syringe. They will have 10 minutes to administer the drug. After that they will be under staff observation and if everything is fine they will be able to leave the clinic.
“This is safe, evidence-based treatment,” MacDonald said. “When people first come off the street, they are often unstable. But within a few weeks here and sometimes it’s just days—we see a remarkable turnaround.”
Vancouver doctors were allowed to give heroin injections to a selected group of patients by BC Supreme Court in May.
“There are scientists and researchers, clinicians, who have worked in the area of addictions for decades, who believe that this is a good decision,” Health Minister Rona Ambrose said following court’s decision. “I’m happy to provide you with some their accounts.”
Heroin assisted treatment is allowed by health services in some European counties such as Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark and the United Kingdom.