B.C. health officer leads push for European-style heroin treatment programs

published on January 30, 2017 by Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press in Vancouver Sun

VICTORIA – Prescribing medicinal heroin to prevent overdose deaths might appear to clash with common sense, but the provincial health officer in B.C. is backing the idea because he says European-style drug treatment programs work.

The arrival of the powerful opioid fentanyl drove B.C.’s death toll to a new peak last year of 914 overdose deaths, almost 80 per cent higher than the 510 deaths recorded by the provincial coroner in 2015.

Dr. Perry Kendall said he wants support from colleagues in health care and law enforcement to push the province to create treatment programs that prescribe a pharmaceutical-grade version of heroin, called diacetylmorphine.

“It may be counterintuitive for people, but they have been shown to improve functioning, improve physical health, improve mental health,” said Kendall. “They certainly get people out of illegal drug markets and many of those people have gone on to have relatively stable lives.”

Treatment studies from Europe, where medicinal heroin started being widely prescribed in the early 1990s, show declines of illicit drug overdose deaths and disease rates linked to intravenous drug use, including HIV, he said.

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