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Prescribing Heroin for Heroin Users: Good or Bad Idea?
Prescribing heroin for heroin addicts has been used as a ‘treatment’ for many years in Europe, particularly in the UK, Switzerland and Portugal.
A program treating heroin addiction with heroin is underway in Canada for the second time in the city of Vancouver, British Columbia, site of the 2010 Winter Olympics. An earlier clinical trial a few years ago was the first heroin prescription program in North America, and now they’re expanding the program.
In the UK, addiction ‘experts’ a few years ago called for the government to open “shooting galleries” across the country for “hardened” drug addicts to come in and shoot up free medical-grade heroin. There now are several such across the country. The list of benefits, however, are all on the side of society – less drug-related and expensive medical emergencies, less crime, less drug street sales. The benefits listed for the addicts are the same as simply getting off heroin in the first place – minus one all-important benefit: they’re still heroin addicts.
The idea of providing medical-grade heroin to heroin addicts has been around for a long time. There are reports of it being used as long as 60 years ago. The basic premise for prescribing heroin is the same as for methadone and other pharmaceutical approaches to drug addiction.
The aim is to help the addict get off the streets, end criminal behavior and hope for a return to family and work. All this is a trade-off for prolonging the addiction and hoping for an eventual decision to get off drugs, somehow, some day.
To date, there’s little support for heroin-for-heroin-addicts in America. But treating opiate addiction with the alternative and highly addictive drug methadone is widely accepted. A cross-section of addiction ‘experts’ in America also utilize suboxone, naltrexone, buprenorphine, naloxone and several others, and they aren’t all bad by any means and often save lives.
Sticking an addict on methadone for 2 or 3 or 10 years, on the other hand, is not acceptable. Not when the same person, with the right kind of intensive medical treatment, could have become drug free in a matter of months. And it’s much the same for heroin addicts on prescribed heroin.
Abstention gets a bad rap because of bad technique
Unfortunately the combination of extremely rudimentary detoxification and short-term, lip-service rehab has given the abstention concept of drug treatment a bad rap. Instead of taking the time to research and implement modern, cutting-edge detox protocols like those used here at Novus, so-called experts in the field of addiction are taking the easy way out – easy for them, not for their patients – and simply reaching for the prescription pad.
And they’re doing the same thing with rehabilitation – failing to get down to brass tacks and really learn what works and what doesn’t, not seeing that the chosen rehab program really matches the individual needs. Instead, they just grab a prescription pad and scribble an order for another drug that prolongs the addiction for months, years or whatever lifetime the patient has left before overdosing or dying of an infection.
In Canada’s west coast province of British Columbia, where heroin addicts are again being offered medical grade heroin as treatment, proponents of the program had to get a local high-court judge to overturn a federal ban on such ‘treatment.’
Canada’s health minister, Rona Ambrose, was vehemently opposed. After a group of Vancouver physicians continued to prescribe heroin to heroin addicts (who they felt had ‘benefited’ from it in the first clinical trial) Ambrose changed some regulations to try to end the practice.
“The prime minister and I do not believe we are serving the best interests of those addicted to drugs and those who need our help the most by giving them the very drugs they are addicted to,” Ambrose said back in October 2013.
(Years ago, John Walters, the US drug czar under President George W. Bush, called such harm reduction activities “state assisted suicide.”)
Harm reduction and public unpopularity
Prescribing alternative opiates, even heroin, for opiate addiction falls into the practice known as “harm reduction” – a concept that has gained ground in some countries and regions where failures abound in trying to deal with addiction. Basically, harm reduction is the effort to reduce the harmful consequences of addiction without actually dealing with the addiction itself. It contains the notion of hopefulness that someday, maybe with a little help, the addict will decide to get off drugs.
In the UK for example, where heroin is being prescribed to heroin addicts, it’s not popular with the public. According to The Independent, prescribing heroin to hardened addicts “is one of the most controversial in medicine. Giving addicts drugs such as heroin on a maintenance basis, rather than weaning them off them, turns existing policy on its head and presents a challenge to ministers. Critics say that giving addicts the drugs they were previously scoring on the street is not ‘treatment’ and the cost at £15,000 ($23,500) a year per head cannot be justified when National Health Service patients are being denied the latest cancer drugs.”
If you want to be off drugs, stop using drugs now
The majority of Americans also don’t agree with most harm reduction concepts. They see it as indulging the addiction. They view the whole concept of harm reduction as lazy, ineffective and based on the hopelessness from failed treatment approaches of the past. They refuse to surrender.
Novus Detox provides medically managed drug and alcohol detox protocols that really set patients up to make it through rehab and remain drug-free for life. And we do our best to match our patients up with only the best, most successful rehabilitation programs, ones that match the personal needs of each patient.
Don’t hesitate to call us. We’ll answer your questions and help you reach the best decisions for your situation.
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