Health Canada's proposal to loosen regulations on importing prescription heroin to treat opioid addiction is being hailed as a crucial step to reducing fentanyl-fuelled deaths across the country.

Drug policy campaigner Caitlin Shane, who is with the advocacy group Pivot Legal Society, says 931 overdose deaths last year in British Columbia alone point to the urgent need for a proven treatment for people struggling with opioid use disorder.

She says such a high number of fatalities resulting from any other health issue would have elicited a faster response to save lives.

Treatments underway

About 100 people are currently being treated with prescription heroin at Vancouver's Crosstown Clinic, which is being expanded to allow for more access to heroin imported from Switzerland.

New regulations would allow officials to apply to Health Canada for imports of bulk quantities of prescription-grade heroin, and the regulations would also allow access to drugs for other public-health emergencies.

Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott says reducing problematic substance use includes providing effective and compassionate approaches that help health professionals respond to the opioid crisis.