Canada took direct aim at the war on drugs Friday, announcing it will propose allowing doctors to prescribe pharmaceutical-grade heroin under its Special Access Program (SAP).
“A significant body of scientific evidence supports the medical use of diacetylmorphine, also known as pharmaceutical-grade heroin, for the treatment of chronic relapsing opioid dependence. Diacetylmorphine is permitted in a number of other jurisdictions, such as Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Switzerland, to support a small percentage of patients who have not responded to other treatment options, such as methadone and buprenorphine,” the Government of Canada website states.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party have made moves against the drug war, including indications during his campaign that cannabis may be legalized. As Canada’s Liberal Party website states:
“Canada’s current system of marijuana prohibition does not work. It does not prevent young people from using marijuana and too many Canadians end up with criminal records for possessing small amounts of the drug.
“Arresting and prosecuting these offenses is expensive for our criminal justice system. It traps too many Canadians in the criminal justice system for minor, non-violent offenses. At the same time, the proceeds from the illegal drug trade support organized crime and greater threats to public safety, like human trafficking and hard drugs.”
Legal drugs like prescription opioids have fuelled an epidemic of heroin abuse in the United States, but little has been done to solve the crisis — and Canada’s proposal to, essentially, fight fire with fire via prescription heroin would almost certainly never happen in the States. But the Canadian proposal hasn’t been an arbitrary undertaking. As AlterNet reported:
“Canadian scientists had laid the groundwork for prescription with the North American Opiate Medication Initiative (NAOMI), which first tested ‘heroin-assisted maintenance’ in Vancouver a dozen years ago, and which was followed by the Study to Assess Long-Term Opioid Maintenance Effectiveness (SALOME) between 2005 and 2008. SALOME examined whether giving hard-core heroin users heroin was more effective than giving them methadone.”
SALOME found incredibly promising patient outcomes — including reduction in illegal activities, such as the use of other hard drugs, as well as treatment maintenance, and more. But due to heroin’s illegality, doctors had to apply for SAP in order to continue treating addicts. They were successful until pushback from the Conservative Party in 2013 led then-Health Minister Rona Ambrose to introduce legislation barring the prescribing of such ‘dangerous drugs’ as heroin and cocaine — most likely under false stigmas still lingering from the failed drug war.
But that all changed with Friday’s announcement from Health Canada allowing access to legal heroin. This giant move represents a fundamental shift by country geographically and culturally close to the U.S. — which should be an indication to politicians just how disastrous the drug war has proven to be, and that viable solutions exist.
In actuality, however cutting-edge Canada’s policy might appear, it simply places a higher priority on saving lives over saving face in admitting the war on drugs has been an utter disaster for the people.
Pivot Legal Society and Providence Health Care issued a joint statement cited by AlterNet, saying:
“Allowing access to diacetylmorphine, or medical heroin, to patients who need it, ensures that life-saving treatments get delivered to vulnerable people suffering from chronic opioid use.”
As an increasing number of countries abandon harsh drug policy and criminal legislation in favor of treatment and tolerance, the failures of the war on drugs are gradually being reconciled. However, no matter the strides taken by its neighbor to the North, such sweeping changes for the greater benefit of society are still a long way off for the United States, which hasn’t yet managed to lift cannabis from its Schedule I status.