B.C. health-care providers welcome changes to expand heroin, methadone access

published on March 26, 2018 by Andrea Woo in The Globe and Mail

Health officials in British Columbia are welcoming federal changes to prescribing and administering pharmaceutical-grade heroin but say barriers still remain to accessing the last-resort treatment option, which only about 100 Canadians currently receive.

Federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor on Monday announced regulatory changes that mean heroin, which can currently only be legally administered in a hospital setting, can soon be prescribed and administered by physicians and nurse practitioners at other treatment facilities, such as substance use disorder clinics.

Scott MacDonald is the lead physician at Vancouver’s Crosstown Clinic, the only facility in North America to provide pharmaceutical-grade heroin (diacetylmorphine). He described Monday’s announcement as good, but modest.

He noted the drug is only manufactured in Europe, for example, and can only be bulk-imported in public-health emergencies. Licensing heroin as a medication for substance use disorder and assigning it a Drug Identification Number, signalling it can be marketed in Canada, would be significant progress, Dr. MacDonald said.

“There are so many people dying from illicit drug overdoses that are outside of care,” Dr. MacDonald said. “We need to switch from expecting people to come to care to attracting them into care. We need every kit in the toolkit to do that.”

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