OTTAWA - Health Minister Rona Ambrose is slamming her own department's decision to provide heroin to certain addicts under a special access program and insisting it won't be allowed to happen again.
The program is designed to allow patients in exceptional cases to get medications normally not allowed in Canada.
However, the department has just approved an application that would allow addicts to use heroin — a decision with which Ambrose clearly doesn't agree.
"This decision is in direct opposition to the government's anti-drug policy and violates the spirit and intent of the special access program," she said in a statement.
"I am taking immediate action to protect the integrity of the special access program and ensure this does not happen again."
There are already safe treatments for heroin addiction, such as methadone, Ambrose argued.
"The special access program was designed to treat unusual cases and medical emergencies; it was not intended as a way to give illicit drugs to drug addicts."
It was not clear from the statement whether Ambrose intends to override the decision or to simply take steps to prevent similar decisions in future.
New Democrat health critic Libby Davies accused Ambrose of playing politics with "life and death situations" for chronic drug users.
"Medicalized heroin maintenance has been used very successfully and in places like Europe is seen as part of treatment," Davies said.
"It's another example of the Conservative government ignoring sound public policy, driven by expert advice, and instead making decisions based on political dogma."
The Harper government has taken a hard line on drugs. It strongly opposed the Insite supervised injection site in Vancouver — which marks its 10-year anniversary Saturday — and lost a long legal fight to close it.
Judging from the minister's reaction, not much has changed.
"Our government takes seriously the harm caused by dangerous and addictive drugs," Ambrose said. "These drugs tear families apart, promote criminal behaviour, and destroy lives.
"That is why our government is focused on preventing children and youth from using drugs in the first place and strongly deterring existing use of harmful and addictive drugs."
Applications under the access program are kept private, so it isn't clear who is affected by the Health Canada heroin decision.
However, a group of British Columbia doctors recently announced plans to apply for access to heroin under the program for a group of patients who participated in a clinical study.
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