Opinion Column

Feds reject doctor-prescribed heroin treatment

By Bill Tieleman, News, Views, and Attitude – 24 hours



It’s ethically quite dubious to withhold access to a scientifically proven treatment — B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Perry Kendall

The science supporting doctor-prescribed heroin for severe addicts is strong, including extensive medical reports from six countries in tests involving more than 1,500 patients.

For the federal Conservative government, however, ideology will always be grounds to reject science, research, evidence and experts.

The latest literally reactionary step by Health Minister Rona Ambrose came earlier this month when she reversed her own doctors’ and scientists’ conclusions.

The academics had approved a pilot research program in Vancouver involving 16 hardcore addicts who hadn’t been helped by either methadone treatment or residential rehabilitation. As an alternative, medicinal heroin was to be prescribed and safely administered by doctors.

The goals: improve addicts’ health, reduce criminal activity, cut harm from street drugs, and potentially give them a chance to eventually kick heroin.

But Ambrose said no way, attacking her own ministry in a Sept. 20 news release.

“Our policy is to take heroin out of the hands of addicts, not to put it into their arms,” she fumed.

That was swiftly followed by a fundraising email to Conservative Party donors, claiming Health Canada had broken “the wishes of our elected government.”

Can you spell opportunistic politics?

Last week’s Throne Speech kept up the anti-science drumbeat: “Our government will ... close loopholes that allow for the feeding of addiction under the guise of treatment.”

But rigorous medical research shows the troubled Tories are simply wrong.

Hardcore addicts can be helped by prescription heroin, according to a scientific report from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.

The 176-page report admits that doctors prescribing heroin to addicts can at first seem “controversial” but the results are clear.

“Internationally, a number of experimental projects using robust research designs have been beginning to suggest that for some of those failing to respond to other approaches, the use of diamorphine as a substitution medicine may be an effective way forward,” it says.

BC Liberal Health Minister Terry Lake agrees: “I know that the thought of using heroin as a treatment is scary for people, but I think we have to take the emotions out of it and let science inform the discussion.”

Prescribing heroin for addicts may seem counterintuitive but using science-based evidence should not be — even for this Conservative government.


Bill Tieleman is a former NDP strategist. Read more Tieleman at billtieleman.blogspot.com, email weststar@telus.net.





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