Vancouver clinic to offer heroin prescriptions

Perscription Heroin

First recovery program of its kind offered in North America

By Angela Espinoza, News Editor

On November 26, Vancouver became the first city in North America to offer prescription heroin to recovering addicts. Trials have taken place since 2011, with permission from Health Canada and delivery from Europe, to test the distribution of prescribed heroin to heavily addicted users.

The prescriptions are provided by the Providence Crosstown Clinic, a walk-in clinic located in the Downtown Eastside.

Reportedly 202 people 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 the trials will still be running into 2015, only 120 of the participants immediately met requirements to officially receive prescriptions.

Scott MacDonald, physician lead at the Providence Crosstown Clinic, told CBC, “It is very dangerous and life destroying to have to ingest in an alley, to use illicit heroin three, four times a day. That destroys lives. This is an alternative.”

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.

Yet while usage has dropped over the years, heroin still remains one of the most harmful and highly addictive drugs available. Frequent use of heroin can result in increased vulnerability to organ infections and diseases, abscesses in the skin, and collapsed veins, amongst other severe health risks.

The Providence Crosstown Clinic will be receiving exact amounts of prescription heroin on a case-by-case basis. Additional requests for new patients can be made via the federal Special Access Program, where, if approved, patients will receive a prescribed dose.

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