Doctors in Canada can now legally prescribe heroin to some patients as a means of addiction treatment, ABC News reported Wednesday.
Last week, Canada's health ministry announced that doctors can prescribe diacetylmorphine -- injectable, prescription-grade heroin -- through Canada's Special Access Programme, which "provides access to drugs not currently available on the market for the treatment patients with serious or life-threatening conditions" as a last resort, ABC News reported.
Opioids are responsible for half of all drug-related deaths in Canada, according to the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition. As in the U.S., opioid overdoses have increased dramatically over the past two years.
Canada has studied the effectiveness of prescription heroin as a means of treatment in a pilot program.
"This is a kind of last resort to get them into care to get them off the streets," said Dr. Scott MacDonald, who developed a prescription heroin pilot program in Vancouver. "We see them come to us every day rather than stay on the streets... that engagement and retention in care is a significant benefit."
Prescribing heroin is a strategy aimed at reducing the risk surrounding opioid abuse without forcing an addict to stop using drugs cold turkey.
"I think the idea is not so much the Marie Antoniette-style 'Let them have heroin,'" said Daniel Raymond, policy director for Harm Reduction New York. "We know people who struggle with opioid disorder. We've been using bufneoprohine, morphine...none of them have been sufficiently scaled up."