In what some may see as a controversial move, Health Canada has changed its regulations and now allows doctors to prescribe heroin to patients who are severely addicted to the life-altering drug.
The move is in response to the epidemic of heroin use in North America that has seen the rate of overdose related deaths nearly quadruple from 2002 to 2013.
The Canadian government feels that the level of use in severe cases across the country is requiring health care providers to help users treat their chronic habits as a health problem.
The health minister in Canada’s western-most province of British Columbia stated,
“It indicates a willingness on behalf of the federal government to look at a health-based kind of an issue rather than a criminal-based issue and that they’re not limiting the range of treatment options that are available because there isn’t one size that fits all in these situations. Given the opioid epidemic that we’re facing, we need every tool that is available.”
While the therapy will be useful to addicts, most users will not qualify for the specialized treatment, which is only being made available to a select few.
The decision follows a clinical trial conducted in Canada that concluded administering injectable heroin was more effective for the severely addicted than traditional methadone treatment.
Heroin and the tragedy of overdose is also a growing nightmare in the United States, where addicts are currently left to fend on their own.
Who is using? According to the CDC, in the past ten years, nearly 90% of those who tried heroin for the first time in the U.S were white, and an increasing number of these were from middle class or wealthy families, although the drug’s use can be found across all income levels.
The opioid crisis is multifaceted and is also prevalent in patients across the U.S who are addicted to prescription drugs, such as painkillers, that contain opioids.
In fact, the epidemic has reached such heights that in late August of this year, America’s Surgeon General sent a letter to all doctors addressing the problem and warning them of the perils of prescribing prescription painkillers.
Dr. Vivek Murthy
How did the country get in this mess? Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy claims that doctors have been erroneously educated in medical school to believe that opioid-based painkillers are not addictive if prescribed to a patient in pain.
CNN reports that, recounting a meeting with a friend-a cardiologist in Florida- Murthy stated,
“I was having dinner with him and I said, ‘Can you believe that we were taught that these opioid medications weren’t addictive in our training?’ And he put down his fork and he looked up at me and he said, ‘Wait, you mean they are addictive?’”
While amazing things happen all the time, let’s be honest. It is very difficult to imagine how highly trained doctors with a vast knowledge of chemistry, biology and the way in which the brain operates when addicted to a substance, could possibly believe that drugs containing opioids would not be very addictive under EVERY circumstance.
Good on you, Canada, for taking steps to help addicts. Canada now joins the ranks of countries offering supervised heroin therapy, which currently includes Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands.