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Researchers to Give Free Heroin to Addicts

posted 11:32 PM EST, Mon June 01, 2009
Researchers to Give Free Heroin to Addicts © Photo Credit: Rumkolat

Canadian researchers plan to supply medical grade heroin to 200 addicts in Vancouver and Montreal during a 3 year harm reduction study.

Canadian health workers plan to give free medical grade heroin to 200 addicts in Montreal and Vancouver.

The three year initiative, named the Study to Assess Longer-term Opioid Medication Effectiveness (SALOME) aims to investigate how government provided heroin might improve the health and well being of treatment resistant heroin addicts. Heroin addicts will begin the study taking injections of the drug but researchers hope to eventually transfer the study subjects to an oral form of heroin, taken as a pill.

Similar research initiatives elsewhere indicate that addicts given access to free and safe heroin commit fewer crimes and get healthier.

"A Population That is in Desperate Need for Alternate Health Options"

Michael Krausz, the study's lead researcher, has worked on a similar heroin trial conducted in Germany and says that this research puts Canadian scientists on the cutting edge of health solutions for "a population that is in desperate need for alternate health options."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has in the past argued against harm reduction funding, preferring to see government dollars sent to prevention and treatment initiatives. Although the Conservative federal government in Ottawa has pledged a crackdown on drug use and has been fighting to close another harm reduction clinic in federal court (Vancouver's safe injection project) the heroin study has received 1 million dollars in federal funding.

The researchers hope that providing medical grade heroin will improve the safety of heroin use, and that heroin addicts will find the treatment satisfactory. Researchers eventually hope to switch users away from injection use to orally consumed heroin (which would eliminate the need for nurse administration) and they will also investigate whether hydromorphone, a heroin like medication, might be used as an acceptable substitute.

Martin Schechter, out of the University of British Columbia's School of Population and Public Health, who is working as a researcher on the SALOME study, explained that if heroin addicts could be transferred safely and effectively onto pills of hydromorphone, heroin addicts could live much safer and more satisfactory lives, without facing the dangers, stigma and illegality of heroin.  

Krausz met with business leaders in heroin-plagued Vancouver last week to solicit support and donations for the groundbreaking study. The meeting was organized by Tracy Walsh, executive director of the InnerChange Foundation, which is also associated with the research initiative. Walsh reported that community and business leaders understood the initiative and supported any action to assist the city's very visible drug addicted population; saying that one business leader even offered a $100 000 donation on the spot.

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