Heroin is now legal in Canada — if you have a prescription

Doctors in Canada can now prescribe heroin to addicts as part of a supervised therapy program.
Doctors in Canada can now prescribe heroin to addicts as part of a supervised therapy program. AP

Heroin addicts in Canada don’t have to find their next hit on the street. They can go to their doctor instead.

It is now legal for the country’s physicians to prescribe the drug to addicts who are looking to kick their habit. Doctors must apply for a permit from Canada’s Special Access Program to prescribe dicetylmorphine, which is a pharmaceutical grade heroin.

In order to be eligible for the state-sanctioned drug, a doctor must certify that “traditional options have been tried and proven ineffective” at breaking the habit. These options can include rehabilitation treatment or prescription methadone, an opioid used in detoxification therapy.

Patients must also comply with other rigorous requirements in order to qualify for the prescription. They have to go to the clinic two or three times a day to get the injections, which are designed to decrease in dosage gradually to eventually beat the addiction. Crosstown Clinic, which opened in 2005 to run a clinical trial of prescription heroin therapy, will be able to expand its program under the new law. It currently serves 130 addicts.

“Our goal is to get people into care,” Crosstown physician Scott MacDonald told the Washington Post.

The health minister for Canada’s last conservative government wanted to close the clinic in 2013, but an order from British Columbia’s supreme court kept it open.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has taken a liberal approach to drug policy, intending to legalize marijuana by next year. He also approved the continued operation of Insite, a safe site in Vancouver where addicts can go to inject themselves with street-bought drugs. The legalization of prescription heroin is the next step in addressing the opioid epidemic. In the first seven months of this year, there have been 433 overdose deaths in British Columbia.

Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands also use supervised heroin therapy.