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Thursday, 29 November, 2007

Prescribing heroin to help heroin addicts

Preliminary results from a British harm reduction clinical trial on heroin users show that prescribing heroin to addicts reduces drug use and increases treatment program enrollment, .

The news is a positive sign for Canada's government-funded -- the North American Opiate Medication Initiative -- which is still recruiting patients in Vancouver and Montreal.

The 150-person British trial is ongoing, but the results to this point sound promising:
Trial leader Professor John Strang, of the National Addiction Centre, based at London's Institute of Psychiatry, told BBC News that about 40% of users had "quit their involvement with the street scene completely". "Of those who have continued, which obviously is a disappointment, it goes down from every day to about four days per month," he added. "Their crimes, for example, have gone from 40 a month to perhaps four crimes per month."

The study is being conducted in three locations: in London, Brighton and Darlington. And it's completely government funded, with the full ₤2.5 million kicked in by the Department of Health and the Home Office.

As for NAOMI, which costs $8.1 million, there's been little mention of the project in the news as of late.

But the current government's disdain for Vancouver's safe-injection site, Insite, doesn't bode well for NAOMI; both projects rely on exemptions from Section 56 of the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act in order to remain in operation. That's the exemption the Conservative government has been so reluctant to extend for very long in the case of Insite.

Giving them permanent status would violate Article Four of the (PDF), which reads:
The parties shall take such legislative and administrative measures as may be necessary:

a) To give effect to and carry out the provisions of this Convention within their own
b) To co-operate with other States in the execution of the provisions of this Convention; and
c) Subject to the provisions of this Convention, to limit exclusively to medical and
scientific purposes the production, manufacture, export, import, distribution of, trade in, use and possession of drugs.

Therefore, federal exemptions are required to run projects like Insite and NAOMI. But given the Conservative government's history and comments on harm reduction, and the veiled threats to close Insite, the prospects for these studies' futures aren't as bright as they once were. (NRM in September.)

And that's despite the fact that the evidence -- including the recent British report -- continues to show such initiatives are beneficial.

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