Five-milligram pills of Oxycodone. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)

Give severely addicted drug users injectable medical-grade heroin, guideline says

CMAJ article outlines best practices for innovative treatment that’s been lacking in overdose crisis

A national research group recommends that health-care providers offer injectable medical-grade heroin or other prescription drug to severely addicted patients if oral medication has not worked to reduce cravings for people who could die from toxic street drugs.

Dr. Nadia Fairbairn, an addiction specialist at St. Paul’s Hospital, said a guideline published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal outlines best practices for innovative treatment that has been lacking during an overdose crisis that claimed 4,460 lives in Canada last year.

“I think we really are going to need to think about how history’s going to look back on this era where we’re losing so many Canadians to a totally preventable cause like opioid fatalities,” said Fairbairn, the lead investigator for the Canadian Research Initiative on Substance Misuse, a research consortium.

Key recommendations in the guideline include the use of the injectable opioids diacetylmorphine, or pharmaceutical-grade heroin, and hydromorphone for patients who shoot up illicit opioids and have not responded to the most effective oral treatments — methadone and buprenorphine.

The Crosstown Clinic in Vancouver is the only facility in North America that provides diacetylmorphine, which is imported from Switzerland, as well as hydromorphone, another safer substitute for heroin recommended by the initiative, which consists of 32 members including Canadian health-care practitioners, opioid users and their families.

The Vancouver-based Study to Assess Longer-term Opioid Medication Effectiveness, published in 2016 in the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry, found injectable hydromorphone and diacetylmorphine are equally effective at treating severely addicted heroin users who don’t respond to oral therapy. It included 202 patients.

An earlier study, the North American Opiate Mediation Initiative, which took place in Vancouver and Montreal between 2005 and 2008, suggested diacetylmorphine is an effective treatment for chronic heroin users when methadone does not work.

The recommendations are a blueprint for health-care practitioners on screening patients who would benefit from injecting the two injectable opioids under medical supervision, said Fairbairn, who is also a research scientist at the BC Centre on Substance Use.

Hydromorphone is also provided at a limited number of other clinics in B.C., some of which provide pills that users crush before injecting.

Dr. Scott MacDonald, the lead physician at the Crosstown Clinic, said the heroin substitute is available at about 10 clinics across Canada for chronic injection-drug users.

He said 125 patients are registered to inject diacetylmorphine at Crosstown, and 25 people are given hydromorphone.

READ MORE: How to talk to kids about B.C.’s overdose crisis

The rigorous program requires patients to inject at the facility under medical supervision three times a day at an annual taxpayer-funded cost of about $27,000 per patient, MacDonald said.

Overall societal costs would be higher if chronic drug users continued committing crimes to get their fix, raising policing levels and using health-care resources from overdosing or getting infections from used needles, he said.

“If we’re able to show that a new treatment is both more effective and more cost-effective it should be expanded. That should be an easy decision for health-care decision-makers, just looking solely at the evidence.”

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Rude awakening: 1.6-magnitude earthquake rouses residents from their sleep

The quake was detected 3 km east-northeast of Agassiz

Chronic animal hoarder to be sentenced in Chilliwack court Friday

Michael Clendenning had 51 cats, rabbits and dogs seized due to serious physical and mental distress

Chilliwack working on regional licensing to make way for ride-hailing

Two ride-hailing companies get the go-ahead to operate in Metro Vancouver and beyond

UPDATE: Will Chilliwack’s David Lee Roth impersonator be retried for sex crimes?

After mistrial declared, Crown to decide to drop charges or proceed against David Kuntz-Angel

Chilliwack Visual Artists Assocation calling for artists to display

Works will be on display at O’Connor Group Art Gallery

Fashion Fridays: The basics you need for your body type

Kim XO, helps to keep you looking good on Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

B.C. man dies after police called for ‘firearms injury’ in rural Alberta

Victim is 30-year-old Greater Victoria man, say police

Was Bigfoot just spotted on a Washington State webcam?

Sherman Pass is rougly 70 kilometres south of Grand Forks, B.C.

B.C. employer health tax wins ‘paperweight award’ for red tape

Businesses forced to estimate payroll, pay new tax quarterly

VIDEO: Dashcam records near-miss by bad driver near Sooke

Driver crossed four lanes of traffic and back over again, barely missing three other vehicles

New U.S. LNG terminal near northwestern B.C. town proposed

AlaskCAN International LNG wants terminal just over Canadian border, but using B.C gas

UPDATE: Ride-hailing launches in parts of Metro Vancouver

Uber and Lyft vow to expand as more drivers are hired

Couple wonders who’s in a Cariboo photo that’s been hanging in their home for years

Charles and Lynn Dick believe the image was taken at the 70 Mile Road House

Most Read