Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor in Ottawa on May 16, 2019. (Twitter)

Canada first in the world to approve injectable hydromorphone to treat opioid addiction

B.C. has had one of the only clinics in the country offering such a treatment to a small group of people

Health Canada has approved injectable hydromorphone as the latest option when treating patients with severe opioid use disorder.

Canada is the first country in the world to approve the drug, commonly used for severe pain management, to gain control over the opioid crisis killing three people a day in B.C. alone.

Health Canada said in a news release Wednesday that 10,337 people have died from fatal overdoses since 2016. Roughly 4,000 of those deaths occurred in B.C.

“Increased access to a safe supply of prescription opioids is an innovative tool that will help save lives,” Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor said in a statement on her social media accounts.

READ MORE: Inside Crosstown Clinic, the only clinic to offer patients legal heroin

READ MORE: Carfentanil, an opioid more toxic than fentanyl, linked to more deaths in B.C.

In late April, the ministry announced that provincial governments could import diacetylmorphine – prescription heroin – to use as a treatment option, although the drug is not yet authorized to be sold in Canada.

“Studies have shown that injectable hydromorphone and diacetylmorphine are important drugs that can help stabilize and support the health of some patients with severe opioid use disorder, including increased retention in treatment programs,” the ministry said.

“Both of these drugs are used in substance use disorder treatment in other countries with recognized success.”

In B.C., Crosstown Clinic in Vancouver has been the only facility offering these kinds of treatment over the past four years.

As many as 130 patients use prescription heroin at any given time, and are typically “long-term drug users,” averaging about 15 years, who have been through treatment more than 10 times but haven’t seen any success.

Health Canada’s new rules include that injectable hydromorphone must be administered under the supervision of an experienced physician who is trained in injectable opioid treatments.


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