Toronto doctors could gain the ability to write prescriptions for pharmaceutical-grade heroin by the end of the year, something one councillor says would improve treatment options for drug users in this city.
The federal government announced it would support several measures to combat the crisis of opioid-related overdose deaths last week. While the measures stop short of decriminalizing heroin, they could allow doctors to write prescribe it to drug users who don't respond to other substitutes, like methadone.
Coun. Joe Cressy says he's spoken with several doctors who are keen to use the new ability to help patients battling addictions.
"The point here is to allow people to stabilize their lives so that you're not spending all day long wondering where you're going to get your fix," Cressy told CBC Toronto.
"Rather, working with a doctor, you're able to manage your addiction so that you can spend your time and your days working on getting access to affordable housing or finding that job you need."
Cressy says Ottawa could give doctors the approval they need by the end of 2017. While the city's overdose action plan supports the idea of prescription heroin, it will be up to doctors to decide whether or not to offer it, Cressy says.
There's also an additional benefit to users who seek out the treatment.
"There is the added value of a controlled supply which means that you reduce the odds of a fentanyl overdose," Cressy said.
Mayor John Tory previously voiced his opposition to legalizing heroin, but issued a statement suggesting he's not concerned with the latest development.
"The Mayor is focused on helping Toronto Public Health and city staff roll out Toronto's overdose action plan," his spokesperson Don Peat said in an email.
Mother who lost son hopes drug users will seek treatment
Irene Paterson lost her son, Roger Wong, to a fentanyl overdose, although she prefers another term.
"He was poisoned," she said.
Paterson says there's no way her son, who had been clean for around six months before the fatal relapse, knew what was in the heroin he was using.
She says she wishes the federal government had allowed prescription heroin sooner — it may have helped Wong while he was in the grips of full-blown addiction, she says — but she's glad Ottawa is changing its approach now.
"You know, if you could tell these children, these boys, girls, people out there: 'Come out of the shadows, there is treatment. We can start here.' Then they're not up to use in a basement, a parking lot, and die unattended," she said.
Paterson says in the past, the government's approach to drugs was to advocate abstinence. It's clear that's not working anymore, she says, so it's time to try something else.