As overdose deaths have broken records year after year in the U.S., a group of researchers has looked around the world for new treatment options to try and has landed on a counterintuitive method. A new comprehensive report concludes that it’s time for Americans to earnestly pilot and study “heroin-assisted treatment,” a controversial approach that involves patients who are severely addicted to the drug injecting medical-grade heroin in a supervised setting.
Motivated by the urgency of the country’s overdose crisis, which killed more than 70,000 people in 2017 and which is driven mainly by potent fentanyl analogues, researchers at the Rand Corporation, a California-based think tank, spent a year studying the medical literature and interviewing stakeholders in six other countries, along with American communities plagued by overdoses. The report also outlines the evidence for supervised-consumption sites, another harm-reduction intervention popular across Canada and Europe.
Studies in countries that use heroin-assisted treatment and supervised-consumption sites have found both approaches beneficial for people who have unsuccessfully tried other, less risky approaches to treatment. But the researchers acknowledge that the evidence base for supervised-consumption sites could be stronger, and that there are significant legal, political, and cultural barriers standing in the way of heroin-assisted treatment’s implementation in the U.S. America has a history of prioritizing abstinence as the ultimate goal of recovery, and prescribing people addicted to heroin, well, heroin can be seen as a big leap.