Vancouver, one of North America's most progressive cities in respect to drug policy, will conduct a groundbreaking experiment: prescription heroin.
Following a clinical trial involving 26 subjects, doctors at the city's Providence Medical Clinic have earned permission to provide doses of the drug to a group of 120 severe addicts. The decision followed a lengthy back and forth with Rona Ambrose, Canada's federal Health Secretary, who opposes the policy.
Vancouver has provided needle-exchange programs since 1988, a policy that has reduced negative outcomes from contaminated needles. But clean needles may not be enough. In recent months, several dozen addicts have overdosed on heroin at the clinic, usually through using street-purchased drugs. The prevalence of the overdoses—there were 31 over a two-day period in October—led drug-policy experts to recommend more progressive policies to combat the negative effects of the drugs.
Traditionally, doctors have prescribed methadone as a substitute for heroin addicts, and the substance will continue to play a major role in treatment. But 15 to 25 percent of heroin addicts fail to respond to methadone.
"Methadone works decently well," the reporter Ben Carey told The New York Times' John Tierney in 2009, "but a lot of addicts just don’t like it, so they don’t go in and get treatment."