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article imageStudy: Heroin-assisted Treatment Safe, Effective

By Bob Ewing     Oct 18, 2008 in Health
An University Of British Columbia (UBC) professor claims there is sufficient evidence to support a heroin-assisted addictions therapy clinic in Vancouver.
The North American Opiate Medication Initiative ( NAOMI) study was a Vancouver and Montreal-based clinical trial assessing how patients respond to heroin, methadone and other opiate treatment.
Over the three-year study treated 251 of the most chronically addicted in both Vancouver and Montreal who have not responded well to other treatment options were treated.
"These people are out in the alleys, injecting heroin of unknown quality and quantity," said Dr. Martin Schechter, the study's principal investigator.
"They're committing crimes, they're involved in sex work to pay for that, and they're certainly, in that situation, not going to get better."
The study was funded by an $8.1-million research grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and was approved by Health Canada.
The participants in the study were given methadone, injected heroin or an opiate known as hydromorphone.
Illicit heroin use among participants fell by nearly 70 per cent, the proportion of participants involved in illegal activity fell to 36 per cent from 70 per cent, and participants who were once spending on average $1,500 per month on drugs reported spending between $300 and $500 per month by the end of the treatment phase.
This is enough evidence to show heroin-assisted therapy is a safe and effective treatment for the chronically addicted, and he wants to re-open the heroin-assisted therapy clinic in Vancouver that was used in the study.
"It could treat 200 of the most severely affected people who, right now, are completely outside of the treatment system," he said. "Rather than having them out on the street, costing society approximately $50,000-$60,000 a year, we can treat them in this type of clinic at $25 per person per day which is far, far less."
Researchers were surprised by the effectiveness of hydromorphone, which could be used as an effective substitute for heroin or oral methadone. Of the 25 recipients given the legal opiate, only one was able to correctly identify that he or she wasn't getting heroin.
"If governments are interested in reducing crime, this type of treatment offers them an excellent way to do so," he said.
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