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Heroin recovery program first of its kind in North America

By Angela Espinoza, December 4 2014 —

NEW WESTMINSTER — On Nov. 26, Vancouver became the first city in North America to offer prescription heroin to recovering addicts. Trials started in 2011, with permission from Health Canada and delivery from Europe, to test the distribution of prescribed heroin to heavily addicted users.

Providence Crosstown Clinic, a walk-in clinic located in the downtown eastside, provides the prescriptions.

Over 200 people reportedly took part in the Study to Assess Longer-term Opioid Medication Effectiveness (SALOME) trials. The purpose of the SALOME trials, and prescription practice overall, was to benefit addicts who had attempted other forms of heroin rehabilitation, such as methadone maintenance therapy and have previously failed to recover. The addict must also have recorded evidence of having used heroin for at least five years and still be using often.

While trials will run into 2015, only 120 participants immediately met requirements to officially receive prescriptions.

The Providence Crosstown Clinic will receive prescription heroin on a case-by-case basis. Patient requests can be made via the federal Special Access Program. If approved, patients will receive a prescribed dose.

Those who have received prescriptions will be monitored by their doctor and won’t be able to take their prescriptions outside the clinic. Prescribed patients must also visit the clinic three times a day to receive their prescriptions.

Scott MacDonald, physician lead at the Providence Crosstown Clinic, told CBC that using illicit heroin multiple times a day is dangerous.

“That destroys lives. This is an alternative,” MacDonald said.

According to the second edition study Drug Situation in Vancouver, conducted by the Urban Health Research Initiative and published in June 2013, heroin was the second-most available illicit drug in Vancouver in 2011, second to crack cocaine.

However, overall daily use of heroin by Vancouver addicts decreased significantly over the years, from nearly 40 per cent of illicit drug users claiming to use heroin daily in 1998 to less than 15 per cent in 2011. Part of the decline in use is a result of heroin’s reported price tag of roughly $20 per 0.1 gram.


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