Prescription heroin study allowed temporarily
A Providence Health Care program to give 202 addicts prescription heroin to compare the drug's effects to a replacement-medication has been given a temporary green light by the courts. (FILE PHOTO)
Providence Health Care’s controversial prescription heroin study can proceed once again after an injunction was approved by the B.C. Supreme Court Thursday.
That means the study’s 202 patients can apply to Health Canada for Swiss-imported prescription heroin until a decision is made in a trial in which the federal government and local health authorities are expected to clash.
The conflict began in September last year when Canada’s Health Minister Rona Ambrose stopped it in its tracks after 16 patients in the study got prescription heroin approval.
Pivot Legal Society lawyer Adrienne Smith, who represented five patients in the case, said even though a total of 21 patients were approved for the drug before Canada banned the test, they couldn’t get their meds.
“The supplier just went into paralysis-mode” after the government’s announcement, she said.
Joseph Arvay, a lawyer representing Providence, said the federal government insisted that doctors use hydromorphone — which he calls an unproven heroin substitute, despite its legal status — instead of prescription heroin, which a previous study showed as being more effective in addiction treatment than methadone.
“The whole point of the study — which the federal government was funding — was to determine whether hydromorphone was as effective as heroin,” Arvay said.
“We have scores of studies all over the world about the effectiveness of heroin. We have no studies on the effectiveness of intravenous hydromorphone for opiate addiction.”
In a previous study conducted between 2005 and 2008, researchers at Providence found most of 25 patients who used hydromorphone couldn’t tell the difference between that drug and heroin.
But Arvay said that finding was a byproduct of the earlier study, which only intended to test heroin versus methadone.
The $7.4-million Canadian Institutes of Health Research-funded study is expected to conclude in late 2015.
Meanwhile, Arvay said the court trial would likely take place next year.
There is a condition to obtain prescription heroin according to the court. Only those in the Providence SALOME study are allowed, and they must be resistent to other treatments.