Could Prescription Heroin Be the Answer?


Like the crack cocaine epidemic of the 80s, the heroin epidemic is quickly becoming the defining drug issue of the millennium. With the number of heroin overdoses rising exponentially, it’s left millions of people in the United States searching for answers to combat the epidemic. Sadly, the heroin landscape continues to change as the product is cut with deadlier chemicals every single day. Canada has recently unveiled a radical new plan to combat the heroin epidemic that plagues over 9 million people – prescription heroin. Yes, that’s right, Canada is actually prescribing heroin for those suffering from addiction. The Controlled Drugs and Substances Act permits doctors to apply for permission under the federal Special Access Program to offer their addicted patients diacetylmorphine: pharmaceutical-grade heroin. While it might not make it’s way into the country anytime soon, let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of prescription heroin.

Pros and Cons of Prescription Heroin

Pro: It Could Lessen the Chance of Overdose

Many lawmakers in Canada are arguing that prescription heroin will help to prevent addicts from purchasing heroin that has been cut with a variety of lethal chemicals. It would essentially be a way to monitor where and how the drug is being used. “A number of countries have allowed doctors to use diacetylmorphine-assisted treatment to support the small percentage of patients with opioid dependence who have not responded to other treatment options,” the regulation states. “There is also a significant body of scientific evidence supporting its use.” While diacetylmorphine has actually been legal since 2013, the regulations have become clarified and physicians are allowed to prescribe the drug in special situations.

Con: It Puts More Drugs On the Streets

Many opposing Canada’s new regulations are worried that this program will simply put more drugs on the streets, which is technically correct. Doctors will essentially be putting a safer version of the drug on the street, but still a dangerous drug nonetheless. Many also fear that this could lead to the decriminalization of the drug, meaning many dealers will be left to run rampant across the country.

Pro: Studies Show Perscription Heroin Works

Lawmakers and Canada didn’t just come up with the idea on a whim. In fact, many studies have gone on to ensure that this program would provide an impact, and the signs point towards a positive impact. In one of the Canadian studies, the results of a randomized controlled trial published in the New England Journal of Medicine, put the promise of heroin maintenance treatment this way:

“In this trial, both diacetylmorphine [heroin] treatment and optimized methadone maintenance treatment resulted in high retention and response rates. Methadone, provided according to best-practice guidelines, should remain the treatment of choice for the majority of patients. However, there will continue to be a subgroup of patients who will not benefit even from optimized methadone maintenance. Prescribed, supervised use of diacetylmorphine appears to be a safe and effective adjunctive treatment for this severely affected population of patients who would otherwise remain outside the health care system.”

While there will surely be more studies done in the near future, these initial findings point towards the program having a positive impact on the epidemic.

Con: It’s Not Addressing The Real Problem

Another major counterpoint against this new initiative is that despite its focus on creating a safer environment for addicts, it’s not actually addressing the problem of the addiction. The program will eventually need to address the addiction head-on and focus on the detox process. Many feel like putting more heroin onto the streets will only prolong the issue.

Either way, it’s important to keep and eye on the situation. New programs could make their way into U.S. hospitals eventually so it’s important to know exactly what the future will hold for the opioid epidemic. How do you weigh in on the heroin epidemic?

Author: Troy Diffenderfer

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