Canadian doctors can now prescribe heroin to people with serious addictions to the drug.
This change is thanks to new regulations approved earlier this month by the Canadian government.
The government says this treatment will be limited to a small number of users “in cases where traditional options have been tried and proven ineffective.”
Doctors will need to apply to Health Canada — the country’s health department — for access to pharmaceutical grade heroin (diacetylmorphine).
Requests will be approved on a case-by-case basis as part of the government-run Special Access Programme.
Shift in approach
This new policy is part of a shift by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government away from the previous Conservative government’s approach toward fighting drug addiction and misuse.
In April, the government also announced it will introduce legislation next year to legalize the sale of marijuana.
According to The Washington Post, some members of the Canadian Conservative party remain opposed to the use of prescription heroin as a treatment option for those with an opioid addiction.
Others welcome the change.
“It’s good that the federal government is considering the most vulnerable patients and people in Canada,” Dr. Scott MacDonald, lead physician at the Providence Crosstown Clinic in British Columbia, told Healthline.
The clinic, which is funded by the provincial government, has been using diacetylmorphine for several years to treat people with heroin addiction. Patients visit the clinic up to three times a day for injections of heroin from a nurse.
This is part of a special court-ordered exemption granted in 2014. The new regulations are expected to allow the clinic to expand its program.