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Supreme Court challenge launched over prescription heroin access

posted Nov 14, 2013, 12:30 PM by Victor   [ updated Nov 25, 2013, 9:43 AM ]
Last month, Federal Minister of Health Rona Ambrose introduced new regulations to prevent the approval of prescription diacetylmorphine (heroin) through Health Canada's Special Access Programme (SAP). Providence Health Care and five patients in B.C. are now challenging that decision in court, arguing that the updated regulations prevent the delivery of life-saving treatment to patients suffering from severe drug addiction. Also partnering with Providence in the legal challenge is Pivot Legal Society. Pivot played a role in the establishment of InSite, the first sanctioned supervised injection site in North America, and was also involved in the lengthy legal battle to keep InSite open in the face of federal government opposition. The following is an excerpt from the press release by Providence Health Care, and below is a link to the complete press release.
Providence Health Care and Patients File Constitutional Challenge to Federal Government Decision
November 13, 2013


Providence Health Care (Providence) and five SALOME patients launched a constitutional challenge today to overturn a recent decision by the federal government of Canada that prevents the delivery of life-saving treatment to vulnerable addictions patients.

Providence and the five patients filed a Notice of Civil Claim in the BC Supreme Court today jointly, requesting, among other things, a declaration that the new federal government regulations infringe on the Charter Rights, are unconstitutional, and should be struck down.

“To patients like me, diacetylmorphine (heroin) assisted treatment has proven to be life-saving and stabilizing,” said David Murray. “To deny this treatment and to go against all medical evidence – and even Health Canada’s own decision – is heartless and harmful.”

The legal action comes in the wake of Federal Minister of Health Rona Ambrose’s October 3, 2013 changes to federal regulations making diacetylmorphine a restricted substance under the Food and Drug Act, preventing it from being available through Health Canada’s Special Access Programme (SAP).

SAP is designed to let patients in exceptional cases get medications normally not available in Canada. Through SAP, Providence doctors had requested – and received – access to diacetylmorphine for 21 of the participants exiting the SALOME research study in Vancouver, before the regulations closed off access to this treatment.

SALOME (The Study to Assess Longer-term Opioid Medication Effectiveness) is a clinical study, headed by Providence’s Centre for Health Evaluation and Outcome Sciences researchers, that tests alternative treatments for people with chronic heroin addiction who are currently not benefiting sufficiently from available treatments such as oral methadone. The study aims to determine alternative treatments for people with chronic heroin addiction not benefitting sufficiently from available treatments such as oral methadone.

The science supports this course of treatment. Six similar trials comparing medically-prescribed heroin and methadone (including NAOMI) involving more than 1,500 patients have provided unanimous evidence in support of the effectiveness of this treatment for long-term heroin-dependent individuals. Data is available from six countries: Switzerland, the Netherlands, Spain, Germany, the United Kingdom and Canada.

Heroin-assisted treatment has been officially adopted in the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands.

Read the full press release at Providence Health Care's website...
Futher reading

Heroin-assisted treatment - Wikipedia