News / Vancouver

Addictions experts to gather in Vancouver for heroin therapy symposium

As over 100 people in B.C. die every month from drug overdoses, experts and advocates are calling for the expansion of prescription heroin.

A mural in a Downtown Eastside alley warns of the danger posed by drugs mixed with fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid responsible for a sharp increase in deaths.

Jennifer Gauthier/For Metro

A mural in a Downtown Eastside alley warns of the danger posed by drugs mixed with fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid responsible for a sharp increase in deaths.

As overdoses continue to kill over 100 people a month in British Columbia, experts on heroin-assisted therapy will gather in Vancouver on Friday, May 26 to discuss treatment models in several European countries.

Vancouver is home to North America’s only clinic that offers medical-grade, prescription heroin and hydromorphone. At Crosstown Clinic, around 130 people who failed to respond to other addiction therapies and participated in two medical trials between 2005 and 2015 continue to receive the treatment.

But beyond those initial participants, the program hasn’t been expanded, a frustration to doctors at the clinic who say the treatment works well for some people and advocates who say it could save more lives. Expanding the program would require support from the provincial and federal government.

The experts who will visit Vancouver on May 26 include Robert Haemmig from  Switzerland, Nicola Metrebian from the United Kingdom, Uwe Verthein from Germany, Inge Birkemose from Denmark and Wim van den Brink from the Netherlands. They’ll talk about the treatment models in their countries and some of the social and economic impacts of offering the treatment.

The European experts will also get a chance to meet people whose lives have been affected by the overdose crisis at a community gathering in Oppenheimer Park in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside on May 27.

“People can come out and learn about heroin-assisted treatment, but also just to show that there’s a lot of public support in the Downtown Eastside for the treatment and it needs to be expanded,” said Jordan Westfall, the president of the Canadian Association for People who Use Drugs and one of the organizers of the community event.

“If people have access to safe drugs, no one at Crosstown Clinic overdoses and dies, they’re leaving criminalization and it sort of interrupts that hustle that happens when you’re entrenched.”

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