Legal Heroin: Addiction and Medical Supervision


In a move many may see as counterintuitive, the Canadian government has quietly approved regulations that will allow doctors to prescribe legal heroin to treat severe addictions. Now, the InSite clinic in Crosstown, Vancouver will be expanding its heroin-maintenance program — a location that sees addicts as many as three times a day.

So far, this program is the first of its kind in North America mirroring the approach taken by eight European countries with the earliest legal heroin clinic opening in Switzerland back in 1986.

Previously, the Conservative-majority government of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper had tried in vain to shut down the InSite clinic, stating firmly that “we as a government will not fund drug use.”

legal heroin

Current Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau during a recent press conference.

Although many are in firm opposition to such measures, it’s important to look at the current situation playing out in Vancouver and other parts of Canada to understand why current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau believes legal heroin is for the best.

Legal Heroin: A Sensible Decision?

Lead physician at the InSite, Scott MacDonald has been operating the clinic since 2005. “Our policy is to take heroin out of the hands of addicts and not put it in their arms,” he said, with most of the patients being long-term users for whom standard methadone and detox treatments have failed after repeated attempts.

MacDonald maintains that getting users off the streets and away from crime or sex trade work to get their fix “is not the total solution, but it’s part of the solution.”

For addicts, finding relief from the lifestyles imposed by prohibition can sometimes make the difference — InSite provides clean needles, water, and medical attention in case of an overdose. Contextually, the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver where the clinic is located has often been labeled as the poorest postal code in Canada. This seems like a step in the right direction considering Vancouver had the highest rate of HIV in the developed world in 1997.

A legal heroin clinic in Crosstown, Vancouver.

A legal heroin clinic in Crosstown, Vancouver.

It comes down to the fact that addicts will seek out their fix, no matter the toll on their health and safety — clinics like InSite acknowledge this, treating the issue as a matter of medicine rather than morality.

Opposition to the Movement

Though legal heroin is a reality (for now) in Vancouver, there are those who believe abstinence from the drug is the best harm reduction strategy for long-time addicts. Many Government officials and taxpayers alike are still uneasy about paying for InSite’s approach. Still, a four-year study into the viability of creating similar clinics recommended three new sites in Toronto, and even two more in Ottawa — the nation’s capital.

Chairman of the Toronto Drug Strategy, Councilor Gord Perks thinks that new clinics are only a matter of time:

“We’ve started to get people to face the very difficult fact that if you do not provide this medical service you are killing people. And I think it’s only a few years away until we have a supervised injection site here in Toronto.”

legal heroin

Physicians will have to apply for a special permit to write legal heroin prescriptions.

With the Trudeau government’s decision to legalize the sale of cannabis in April of this year, the fight for legal heroin is hopefully another move toward more medically-conscious drug policies in Canada.

Author: Connor Smith

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