'It works,' the health minister says. 'It gets people's lives back on track.'

30 May 2017

Giving people with severe addictions prescription heroin could save lives as Canada continues to struggle with an opioid overdose epidemic, says Health Minister Jane Philpott.

"I know this is a challenging concept for some people to think about, but the reality is that when people go out on the streets they often commit crimes to be able to get the drugs they need. They're buying dirty drugs and they're dying," the physician-turned-politician said in an interview with Chris Hall, host of CBC Radio's The House.

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"With people who don't respond to the traditional treatments like the Suboxone or methadone, the people with the most severe addiction, there's actually great evidence that if you give them clean heroin in a medically supervised setting under the direction of a doctor that you can not only help these people deal with their addiction and save their lives, it can lead to a tremendous amount of stability in their lives," said Philpott.

As health minister, Philpott speaks from a bully pulpit, but she's far from the first person to suggest prescription heroin as a potential fix for the fentanyl overdose crisis that killed close to 1,000 people in British Columbia in 2016, and is on track to kill a larger number of people this year.

So far, Providence Health Care's Crosstown Clinic on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, a neighbourhood particularly ravaged by the opioid crisis, is the only clinic in North America that offers addicts actual heroin.

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