Legal Heroin

published on March 11, 2017 by Travis Lupick, Sam Fenn, Gordon Katic, Alexander Kim in The Georgia Straight

As the fentanyl crisis continues, one Vancouver doctor moves people out of the alleys and into a clinic

This article was written in partnership with Cited Podcast for a program distributed on NPR stations across the United States. Listen to a related radio documentary about the fentanyl crisis and a controversial fix for addiction.

There are two very different groups of heroin addicts in the Downtown Eastside. Bernadette is a member of the first.

She describes her life as an endless game of Russian roulette. A half-dozen times every 24 hours, her physical dependence on opioids, combined with an intense craving for cocaine, forces her to inject unknown substances.

On February 7, the new B.C. Centre on Substance Use, a research body based out of St. Paul’s Hospital, unveiled a highly anticipated set of revised guidelines for the treatment of opioid addictions. Absent from the document was prescription heroin and other injectable-substitution therapies like those offered at Crosstown Clinic.

At a news conference that day, its director, Evan Wood, defended his decision to omit injectable opioids from the treatment guidelines he drafted.

“I spend time””at least I used to””about a half a day a week at Crosstown Clinic, where people get diacetylmorphine or hydromorphone, so I know all about it,” he said in response to reporters’ questions. “But it’s a small proportion of the population who are severely opioid addicted who that would be most appropriate for. So it’s a very important conversation. But we need to look at the full continuum.”

And so Crosstown Clinic’s 91 patients remain the only people in Canada for whom prescription heroin is available.

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