Once a new federal policy comes into effect, a local addictions advocate hopes to see prescription heroin made available in Penticton.
The federal government announced last week pharmaceutical-grade heroin, or diacetylmorphine as it is clinically known, would be available more broadly than just in the hospital setting, including at addictions clinics. That will be implemented by May 19, the government said.
Daryl Meyers with the Pathways Addiction Resource Centre in Penticton, which offers a suboxone and methadone program, said Pathways would likely not run the program itself.
“If it’s for them to see a doctor to get a prescription … that’s one thing, and that might be something the doctor here might want to do. But if it involves having drugs on our facility, that’s one thing we would not do,” she said.
“We would be total proponents to be able to work with an agency or with doctors that are willing to do it, however that looks. We would definitely want to partner with them, because we see people in here all the time who would benefit from that service.”
But Meyers said she hopes not to see too many barriers in the way of access for those who would benefit from a heroin prescription, noting that Penticton has not been able to get a long-sought overdose prevention site at this point.
“If they’re going to make prescription heroin available, they need to make it so that it can be accessed by the people who need it the most, and can’t be too onerous to get at,” Meyers said, adding that it also needs to be done in a secure environment.
Prescription heroin would benefit both the drug user and the community, Meyers said, pointing to the successes of the Providence Crosstown Clinic in Vancouver.
“If people don’t have to go out and find street drugs, and they can get what they need, that is better. Drugs that are clean and available to them to be able to use in a safe environment — it relieves a whole lot of social implications in the community.”
In particular, she said property crime would see some relief if people know where and how they are getting the drug on a daily basis, rather than finding harmful ways to fund the addiction.
And that could help to reduce the stigma for drug users, as well, Meyers said.
“There’s numerous reports where people who receive prescription heroin are able to carry on really great lives. They’re able to hold a job, they’re able to maintain housing and they’re able to do lots of things that the general population can do.”
That’s because a prescription would offer stability in the lives of people who are struggling to get by, Meyers said. Having that stability allows people to apply for jobs, personal identification and housing, which can be onerous tasks.
It can also add another rung in the ladder to recovery, Meyers said, noting it would be a step toward programs like suboxone or methadone. It would also be a guarantee in the purity of the substance.
In B.C., fentanyl and carfentanil opioids, which have leaked into just about every illicit drug on the market, in large part have driven the overdose crisis that killed over 1,400 people in B.C. last year.
In Penticton, that number is between 17 and 20, and even at the low end of that, the per-capita rate hit harder than the average in B.C.
“It’s playing Russian roulette with the illicit drugs out there. It’s crazy; we need to put a stop to that.”