Sunday, February 5, 2017

Prescription heroin program to expand

Fentanyl remains the leading cause of opioid death in Ontario, but updated data shows that the prescription painkiller hydromorphone sits as the second-deadliest drug when it comes to fatal overdoses in the province. Hydromorphone is similar to heroin and goes by the trade name Dilaudid. It's extremely addictive and used to treat moderate to severe pain.

In eastern Canada it's made headlines, but the drug isn't getting the same level of media attention as fentanyl because it's neither new nor as potent. Hydromorphone comes in a pill that, like heroin, can be ground into powder, dissolved in liquid and injected. The potency of the two drugs is almost identical.
Mark Schnell walks into the injection room at Providence Health Care's Crosstown Clinic in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. With the help of a cane, he approaches a booth where he's given one of his three daily doses of injectable hydromorphone, his replacement for heroin.

A nurse helps him wrap a piece of elastic around his upper arm. He struggles to find a vein in his left hand, then suddenly cries out in pain. Another nurse jumps in to help him. "I hit a nerve". Schnell tries a vein in his other hand, then decides to inject the drug into his right shoulder.
The federal government overturned a ban on prescription heroin in September. Prescription heroin has been pointed to as a potential fix for the fentanyl overdose crisis. Toronto City council has approved three supervised injection sites but is awaiting Ottawa's final approval and the province's commitment to fund them.