Drug program director backs prescribed heroin for Ottawa addicts

1 / 2
Drug program director backs prescribed heroin for Ottawa addicts

The director of an Ottawa drug treatment centre believes prescribing heroin to addicts should become an available treatment option to both help them stabilize and reduce harm.

Rob Boyd, who runs the Oasis program at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre, says current treatments such as oral methadone are "just not able to provide the level of stabilization that's necessary" for some people who are trying to kick their heroin addiction.

"I think that we have to set up environments where we're optimizing people's opportunities to recover based on the least intrusive and the least problematic types of treatments," Boyd told guest host Stu Mills on CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.

"But we have to recognize that for some people, what we're doing right now is not sufficient, and that we need to add heroin-assisted treatment as part of the toolkit of addictions medicine."

Last year, Health Canada amended regulations to allow doctors to prescribe heroin to severely addicted patients.

'Better quality control'

Boyd estimates there are dozens of patients in Ottawa who receive methadone, but supplement that with heroin they get off the streets. He believes being able to prescribe them medical-grade heroin, created in a lab in Switzerland, can reduce harm.

"Because we're talking [about] a supervised site, and we're talking also about medical-grade heroin — we're not going to be picking heroin up off the streets in order to prescribe it to people — so there's a better quality control in that sense as well," he said.

Boyd points to a program in Vancouver where people receive and take prescribed heroin in a strictly controlled environment. He'd like to see something similar in Ottawa, but first he wants the city to create a supervised safe injection site.

"Being able to establish as a supervised injection service in Ottawa really kind of enables this as a treatment option. We would also need to expand hours of service, which is part of our proposed model as well, because we would need to be supervising injections seven days a week for people within a prescribed heroin program," he said.