A decade of research in Switzerland, The Netherlands, Germany, and Spain now constitutes a massive body of work supporting the use of heroin treatment for the most difficult patients addicted to opiates. These trials concur on this method's safety and efficacy and are now serving as a prelude to the institution of heroin treatment in clinical practice throughout Europe. While the different sampling and research protocols for heroin treatment in these studies were important to the academic claims about specific results and conclusions that could be drawn from each study, the overall outcomes were quite clear - and uniformly positive. They all find that the use of prescribed pharmaceutical heroin does exactly what it is intended to do: it reaches a treatment refractory group of addicts by engaging them in a positive healthcare relationship with a physician, it reduces their criminal activity, improves their health status, and increases their social tenure through more stable housing, employment, and contact with family. The Canadian trial (NAOMI), now underway for over a year, but not yet completed, now faces a dilemma about what to do with its patients who have successfully completed 12 months of heroin and must be withdrawn from heroin and transferred to other treatments in accordance with the research protocol approved by Government of Canada, federal granting body and host institutions. The problem is that the principal criterion for acceptance to NAOMI was their history of repeated failure in these very same treatment programs to which they will now be referred. The existence of the results from abroad (some of which were not yet available when NAOMI was designed and initiated) now raises a very important question for Canada: is it ethical to continue to prohibit the medical use of heroin treatment that has already been shown to be feasible and effective in numerous medical studies throughout the world? And while this is being worked out, is it acceptable to require patients who have been successfully treated with heroin in Canada, to be forced to move back to less effective treatments (treatments that failed to be efficacious in the past)? This essay discusses this dilemma and places it in the broader context of ethics, science, and health policy. It makes the case for continuation of the current successful patients in heroin treatment and the institution of heroin treatment to all Canadian patients living with active addictions who qualify. © 2006 Small et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.
Small, D., & Drucker, E. (2006, May 2). Policy makers ignoring science and scientists ignoring policy: The medical ethical challenges of heroin treatment. Harm Reduction Journal. https://doi.org/10.1186/1477-7517-3-16