The head of a Canadian clinic that provides legally prescribed heroin to people addicted to the drug told U.S. senators this week the strategy can reduce the risk of serious illness and premature death, while reducing drug-related crime.
Dr. Scott MacDonald, lead physician at the Crosstown Clinic in Vancouver, Canada, told members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs that providing legal heroin to people addicted to the drug can improve their mental and physical health, according to U.S. News & World Report.
“While methadone and buprenorphine are effective treatments for many people and should remain first line responses, no single treatment is effective for all individuals,” MacDonald said in his testimony. “Every person left untreated is at high risk for serious illness and premature death.”
The Crosstown Clinic is the only place in Canada that provides legal heroin, called diacetylmorphine. The clinic also provides hydromorphone, a widely available licensed pain medication. The clinic serves 140 people, MacDonald told the senators. Patients can come up to three times a day for treatment. About one-third take a small dose of methadone with their last session at night.
The Netherlands, Denmark and Switzerland also provide legal heroin, known as heroin-assisted therapy. Proponents of the treatment say clean heroin injected under medical supervision is safer than street heroin. They say that by reducing the need to beg and steal, the lives of people addicted to heroin become more orderly.
One study of medical heroin in Canada, called SALOME, found 80 percent of the 202 participants stayed with the program. Of the more than 80,000 heroin injections during the study, nurses had to intervene 11 times in overdoses. In each case, patients survived.
MacDonald’s clinic gets its medical heroin from Switzerland. It is sterile and of a predictable strength.