The current opioid epidemic can lead people into poverty, jail, or death. The conventional response is to cut off the supply, such as is attempted with the War on Drugs (and rehab programs for a lucky few). Vancouver is trying out a different response. At the Providence Crosstown Clinic, heroin addicts can receive medical-grade heroin, which they inject themselves under the supervision of a nurse. It doesn't cure the addiction, but it reduces the chances of dying of an overdose, contracting an infection, or being poisoned by bad drugs. It also reduces the need for addicts to commit crimes to support their habit.
Crosstown represents an international move toward providing a full spectrum of care for people who are addicted to drugs. It isn’t a first-line defense against opioid addiction, and it’s not going to solve the crisis by itself. But for a fraction of opioid users suffering from addiction (maybe about 10 to 15 percent), other treatments won’t produce good results, almost certainly leading users to relapse — and possibly overdose and die.
To combat this cycle, Crosstown offers these opioid users medical-grade heroin (called “diacetylmorphine”). Under supervision, nurses are at the ready with the overdose antidote naloxone and oxygen tanks in case of an emergency. These patients are the people for whom other treatments have failed. It’s a last resort. And it works.
Since 2011, the clinic has seen about 200 patients. None of them, MacDonald said, have died under the clinic’s supervision. In fact, as far as he can tell, no one has died at any prescription heroin facility due to an overdose — not in Canada, Switzerland, Germany, or the Netherlands.