BC VOICES: Pivot Legal Society - Reinstatement of the Heroin Assisted Treatment Program

by Katrina Pacey - Executive Director, Pivot Legal Society

After a three-year legal battle, we are thrilled to announce that the federal government has finally amended regulations that block access to life-saving addiction treatment. Heroin Assisted Treatment, or “HAT”, is a program where pharmaceutical-grade heroin is administered to individuals who are struggling with opiate addiction and have not benefitted from methadone and other addiction services. HAT has widely proven benefits, including decreased rates of illicit drug use, disease, and overdose, as well as improved health, social reintegration, and treatment retention. 

The stability that HAT provides resonates through all aspects of the patient’s life: transitioning from homelessness to stable housing, reconnecting with family and community, and finding employment. It can also mean moving on to other forms of addiction treatment. Our clients and the broader Downtown Eastside community are over the moon because this regulatory change has come at a time when it has never been more dangerous to be a heroin user. Larry

With B.C. in the midst of a public health emergency as a result of the Fentanyl crisis, access to HAT is a matter of life and death. Reinstatement of this program is incredible news for our clients and for people who use drugs across Canada.  

There is a long story leading up to this win. It began in October 2013, when former federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose decided to enact regulations that halted access to HAT altogether. Despite extensive evidence from Canada and around the world demonstrating the benefits of HAT, Minister Ambrose decided to use her legislative powers to prevent access to this form of addiction treatment. This decision was a potential death sentence for our clients, who had been healthier and safer as a result of the HAT program. 

It took a successful injunction application, years of negotiation, and ultimately a change in government to reverse Minister Ambrose’s decision, but I am happy to announce that along with the co-plaintiff, Providence Health Care, we have successfully ensured that Canadian doctors will be able to add HAT to the list of evidence-based addiction treatment options available to their patients. 

To hear more from the experts, take a few minutes to watch Dr. Keith Ahamed, addiction medicine physician and clinical researcher at St. Paul's Hospital, describe the benefits of this treatment

Nobody explains the significance of this victory better than our clients, and I encourage you to read their full statement on why this decision means so much, and why they felt compelled to fight so hard for so long to obtain it.  

And while this victory is one of the sweetest and biggest our organization has ever secured, there is still much work to be done to push the federal government to remove other impediments to life-saving harm reduction strategies. Earlier this week, Interior Health announced that plans for a supervised injection site have stalled for months.  This is an example of the ways in which arbitrary restrictions created by Bill C2 – the “Respect for Communities Act” continue to stand in the way of harm reduction. 

We couldn’t have waged this fight without you, and we hope you’ll continue to support us as we push for evidence-based strategies to fight the current overdose crisis and to improve the health of people who use drugs. 

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