As part of a controversial scheme set to begin in 2020, Norway will be giving away free heroin — and a safe space to take it in — to people addicted to the drug. In an attempt to combat the country’s overdose epidemic, creators of the plan believe that it will reduce crime rates and drug-related deaths, as well as build trust between doctors and patients which may eventually lead to treatment.
Norway Has a High Rate of Heroin Problems
Norway is reported to have the highest rate of heroin-related deaths across Europe, with 277 people dying in 2017. In the same year, Norway became the first Scandinavian country to make the bold move to decriminalize drugs.
In its next progressive step, the Norwegian Directorate for Health and Social Affairs was tasked with putting together a program that would improve the quality of life for those struggling with substance use disorder. They developed a pilot that will prescribe diamorphine — a medical form of heroin — to treat up to 400 people addicted to the drug. It will be prescribed to those who are at the most risk and who have not responded to other medication-assisted treatment, such as methadone. The patients will also be provided with a safe space to inject the drugs with the goal of preventing overdoses.
There is research to support the use of diamorphine to treat users of heroin. In 1991, Swiss researchers found that it was useful in treating those with heroin use disorder. Other research shows that diamorphine treatment has other harm reduction effects, such as reduced use of illicit heroin, less crime, and improvement to social functioning.
Will This Work?
Talking about his hopes for the initiative, Norway’s Health Minister, Bente Hoie, says in a Facebook announcement that the pilot will “provide a solution that will give…a better quality of life to some addicts who are today out of reach and whom current programmes do not help enough.”
Speaking to The Aftenposten newspaper, Hoie explains “We want to help those who are difficult to reach, those who are not part of LAR [drug-assisted rehabilitation] and who are difficult to treat.”
The pilot is not without criticism, however, with some pointing to the high cost of diamorphine — which is reported to be as high as $22,000 per user. And, Anti-drug campaigner Mina Gerhardsen, told the Associated Press that she didn’t believe patients of the scheme would be able to commit to the strict guidelines of the scheme, “Many of these people are not capable of that,” she says.
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