Doctors in Canada Get the Green Light to Prescribe Heroin

Science & Medicine

Medical marijuana is legal in about half of the United States, and the DEA missed its chance to legalize it on the national level when it passed on rescheduling marijuana this past summer. But in Canada, doctors have been given the green light to prescribe heroin to severely addicted patients.

Are we living in a parallel universe or something?

New rules that went into effect last week allow doctors in Canada to apply to Health Canada – the nation’s health department – for access to medical-grade heroin to prescribe to specific patients. The government-run Special Access Program approves the requests on a case-by-case basis. [1]

The medical-grade heroin – called diacetylmorphine – can only be prescribed to severe addicts for whom most other treatments have failed.

The new regulations state:

“Having access to diacetylmorphine will provide health practitioners with an additional treatment option to treat patients with opioid dependence who have not responded to traditional treatments. Treatment with diacetylmorphine in a comprehensive setting can lead to improved treatment outcomes and health benefits for these patients.”

Said Health Canada:

“A number of countries have allowed doctors to use diacetylmorphine-assisted treatment to support the small percentage of patients with opioid dependence who have not responded to other treatment options. There is also a significant body of scientific evidence supporting its use.” [2]

Eugenia Oviedo-Joekes, an associate professor in the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia, explained that the new change to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act actually reinstates an old rule.

Diacetylmorphine was removed from the federal Special Access Program in 2013 by then Health Minister Rona Ambrose, thereby banning doctors from prescribing the drug. Under the new regulation, patients can only be prescribed heroin if they are under strict supervision and in specialized circumstances.

Opponents of the new regulation say the move just lets addicts…well, keep being addicts. Among the detractors is Ambrose, who said that giving addicts heroin is:

“not to treat an underlying medical condition, but simply to allow them to continue to have access to heroin for their addiction even though other safe treatments for heroin addiction, such as methadone, are available.”

Dr. Paul Updike, who runs Addiction Medicine Treatment Services for Catholic Health, said:

“I just think it opens up a door into saying that we’re just going to treat this addiction by giving you this medication, this drug, that you’re addicted to. I just think it’s not the best way to treat this problem.” [3]

Cannabis has also been shown in studies to effectively treat opioid addiction, including heroin addiction. Medical marijuana has been legal in Canada since 2001.

Supporters of the new Canadian regulation argue that even if diacetylmorphine doesn’t cure patients of their heroin addiction, it still lessens their potentially lethal risk of blood-borne viral infections, drug overdoses, and endocarditis, an inflammation of the chambers of the heart. [2]

Proponents also point out that prescription heroin reduces illegal drug use and thus decreases criminal activity and health care costs. [2]

Gail Czukar, CEO of Addictions and Mental Health Ontario, said:

“There’s good evidence to show that prescription heroin is a good idea for people who have tried other treatments like methadone or suboxone and it just hasn’t worked for them. It’s much safer for the individual. They’re not buying drugs on the street that are cut with other things that are even more dangerous.”


[1] LiveScience

[2] PIX11

[3] WKBW