preventing access to effective treatment for addiction, policy change will result in higher cost for healthcare at lower benefit to patients
A program that allowed doctors to prescribe heroin for long-term addicts came to an end Oct. 3, 2013, when Health Minister Rona Ambrose announced changes to the Special Access Programme (SAP). The move flew in the face of scientific evidence that the active ingredient in heroin, diacetylmorphine, is more cost-effective than methadone and improves the lives of long-term users.
According to the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Ambrose reversed a Health Canada decision to allow 21 patients with long-term addictions use diacetylmorphine under the SAP. According to Dr. Martin Schechter of the University of British Columbia School of Population and Public Health, these were “people who at the end of their treatment period were doing extremely well and... should be continued on the treatment.”
International trials and the North American Opiate Medication Initiative (NAOMI) study provide clear evidence that patients receiving diacetylmorphine live longer and incur lower societal costs than those taking methadone for maintenance therapy for chronic heroin addiction.
On the strength of these studies, Denmark opened clinics where patients with heroin addictions can receive diacetylmorphine. “Canada remains the sole country who has studied this scientifically but then shut the door on its use subsequent to the trial,” Dr. Schechter said.
Minister Ambrose defended her position, stating, "Our government understands that dangerous drugs like heroin have a horrible impact on Canadian families and their communities. We will continue to support drug treatment and recovery programs that work to get Canadians off drugs in a safe way."