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Medical Heroin Helps Treatment-Resistant Addicts
Date:8/19/2009

Controversial approach cuts 'street' drug use and illegal activities, study finds,,,,

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 19 (HealthDay News) -- Long-term heroin addicts who were given "medical heroin" were able to stay in treatment longer than those given methadone, a Canadian study has found.

In addition, rates of illicit drug use and illegal activity declined among the participants, who had failed earlier attempts at treatment, according to the study.

"Without [medical heroin], these people who've already been written off as beyond help would be on street drugs, exposing themselves to harms like overdose, HIV and illegal activities," explained the study's senior author, Dr. Martin Schechter, a professor and director of the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia. "But, if we can get them into a clinic while keeping them safe and stabilizing their lives, we can get them out of that 24-hour cycle and get them in touch with people like doctors and nurses."

"Sooner or later, they may seek counseling and other treatments," Schechter said. "And, in the meantime, you're saving a lot of money in health care because the treatment is far less expensive to the community than the alternative."

As many as a million people in North America are addicted to opioids, and the majority of them are addicted to heroin, according to background information in the study, which is in the Aug. 20 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Methadone is a standard treatment drug given to replace heroin. However, about 15 to 25 percent of people addicted to heroin don't have a good response to methadone, according to the study. In some European countries, researchers have examined the use of injectable medical heroin -- diacetylmorphine, the active ingredient in heroin -- to treat addicts who've failed other treatment options. In the United Kingdom, it's recommended that medical heroin be us
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