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Wednesday, June 19, 2024 | Back issues
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Addicts Challenge Canada’s Drug Ban

VANCOUVER, B.C. (CN) - Canada's attorney general unconstitutionally put the kybosh on a program to prescribe a form of heroin to addicts who haven't responded well to other treatments, a health care provider and addicts claim in court.

The Providence Health Care Society and five addicts claim in B.C. Supreme Court that the Canadian government put an end to a "Study to Assess Longer-term Opioid Medication Effectiveness," which Providence Health ran under a "Special Access Program," which allowed access to the prohibited drug, diacetylmorphine.

The individual plaintiffs, all participants in the study, are suing on behalf of addicts who haven't responded well to other treatments, such as methadone and detoxification programs. After enrolling in the study, they say, they responded well to the prescription heroin treatment.

"These patients face serious health threats if ongoing treatment is limited to a medication that has previously failed (e.g. methadone) or a medication known to be inferior to methadone (e.g. suboxone) or an unproven and experimental medication (hydromorpone)," the complaint states. "If the individual plaintiffs and others are denied access to effective treatment for their addiction, they are each likely to suffer significant negative physical, psychological and psychosocial health effects, including a relapse to using illicit street heroin."

Plaintiffs claim diacetylmorphine is a safe and proven treatment, and to provide anything less would be a violation of a doctor's "professional ethical responsibility."

Health Canada, which initially approved the treatment in September, was swiftly rebuked by the country's Minister of Health.

The federal government, under Stephen Harper's Conservative Party, has ramped up anti-drug rhetoric, and the program to give heroin to addicts was diametrically opposed to government policy.

"The Special Access Program was designed to treat unusual cases and medical emergencies; it was not intended as a way to give illicit drugs to drug addicts," Health Minister Rona Ambrose said in a statement. "Our policy is to take heroin out of the hands of addicts, not to put it into their arms."

Health Canada later withdrew its authorizations under the Special Access Program, according to the complaint.

Plaintiffs claim the government's decision to deny them access to the treatment is unconstitutional because the requests for the drugs were made by medical practitioners, and state-imposed restrictions on the treatment discriminate against them for their physical and mental disabilities, depriving them of their guaranteed "right to life, liberty and security of the person."

The plaintiffs are represented by Joseph J. Arvay and Scott E. Bernstein, with Arvay Finlay in Vancouver.

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