Ottawa mulls unconventional B.C.-style therapies for opioid addiction

published on January 19, 2017 by Andrea Woo in The Globe and Mail

Ottawa will consider adopting national guidelines for prescription heroin and other unconventional therapies to treat severe opioid addiction, looking to guidelines being developed by doctors in British Columbia, where such treatments are already available on a small scale.

Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott told The Globe and Mail she is assembling a roundtable of experts that will explore treatment options for opioid dependency, including those studied and piloted in B.C., such as prescription heroin, hydromorphone and slow-release morphine.

It will be the first time Ottawa demonstrates support for the expansion of evidence-based but controversial treatments outside of B.C. It is a departure from the stand of the previous Conservative government, which in 2013 banned doctors from prescribing heroin – a move that the Liberal government overturned last fall.

Evan Wood, medical director for addictions services at Vancouver Coastal Health and interim director of the B.C. Centre on Substance Use, is leading the development of B.C.’s guidelines. His group will explore : What can be done regarding the regulatory challenges of importing pharmaceutical-grade heroin? Who is eligible for these treatments? How can physicians support patients’ transition to less intensive and more affordable options?

These treatments are but a few in a wide range needed, Dr. Wood emphasized. “We need more evidence-based approaches across the entire continuum, whether that’s circumstances when no medication is required – improving and augmenting recovery-oriented systems of care – and also that small segment of the population where a more intensive intervention involving medication, and for some, involving [heroin], may be appropriate.”

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