B.C. heroin addicts launch Charter challenge against federal drug ban

Five Vancouver-based heroin addicts, along with Pivot Legal Society and Providence Health Care, are launching a constitutional challenge against the federal government’s decision to remove prescription heroin from a drug access program.

In October, Health Minister Rona Ambrose announced the government would be closing a “loophole” in the program that would allow restricted drugs — including heroin, ecstasy, LSD, ‘magic’ mushrooms and ‘bath salts’ — from being authorized for patients. This came on the heels of Health Canada’s Special Access Program that gave doctors the authorization to give 20 patients prescribed heroin in a clinical trial.

“Under the Special Access Program, Health Canada can approve emergency access to certain medicines for Canadians with rare diseases or terminal illness,” Minister Ambrose’s office said in a statement to Global BC. “This program was not intended as a way to give illicit drugs to addicts. To keep dangerous drugs like heroin out of Canadian communities, our Government has taken action to protect the integrity of the Special Access Program and close this loophole.

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We will continue to protect Canadian families and communities against the harmful effects of dangerous and illegal drugs.”

Some are saying this program is needed and can save lives.

One of the addicts named in the challenge is Larry Love. He has been using drugs for 47 years, and has tried methadone as a treatment but it did not work. In 2012 he entered Providence Health Care’s SALOME study and so far it has been successful.

He says without access to prescription heroin, he would not be alive today.

“We’re bringing this legal challenge to save our lives,” he says.

Dr. Scott MacDonald, from the SALOME study, says this treatment is necessary. “It is for people, folks, who have tried recovery, who have tried detox, who have tried  methadone, and for whom those treatments have just not worked,” he says.

“As a doctor I need this tool in my toolkit.”

As part of the challenge the plaintiffs are asking the court to strike out the federal government’s new regulations and are asking for the applicants to be able to continue with the program (which is still on-going), while the matter is before the court.

Scott Bernstein, a lawyer from Pivot Legal Society, says “we listen to the voices of our clients who were concerned, disappointed, and afraid when they learned the federal government as cutting off access to this treatment.”


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