The Hill

Norway Wants To Battle Heroin Overdose Epidemic By Offering Free Drugs And A Safe Environment To Take Them

Norway
Norway may introduce a new controversial program in efforts to prevent heroin overdoses. Lemsipmatt CC BY-SA 2.0

Norway may take an interesting approach to battle the nation's increasing heroin overdose rate by giving addicts good quality drugs and offering them a safe environment to take them in. According to those supporting the decision, such a move would help to establish trust between addicts and health professionals, and may even help save lives.

Norway currently has the highest heroin-related mortality rate among Nordic countries, The Nordic Page reported. A publicly funded medical heroin program supported by left-wing Norwegian politicians proposes to handle this problem by de-criminalizing drug users and offering them a safer way to treat their addiction. Although the plan has been rejected in the past, a new change in government in the capital city of Oslo may bring about a shift in policies.

In Norway, users are already allowed to inject their own drugs in government-monitored safe rooms. However, a new proposition wants to take this a step further by offering users free diamorphine, a medical form of injectable heroin used to treat the most at-risk users who do not respond well to methadone — the traditional medical alternative given to heroin addicts.The diamorphine would also be administered in injecting rooms with the hopes of preventing overdoses.  

Diamorphine was originally marketed as a pain reliever but was soon banned in most countries for its addictive properties. However, in 1991, Swiss trials showed that the drug was successful in treating heroin addicts who did not respond to other forms of medical treatment, the AP reported. Further trials showed that diamorphine treatment led to reductions in the continued use of street heroin, reduction in criminal activities, and improvements in overall social functioning.

Diamorphine would only be offered to the small percentage of addicts who do not respond to methadone. Like methadone treatments, the goal is to wean addicts off the drug slowly and in a safer environment, but it does not come without its hurdles. For one, diamorphine is expensive. According to the AP, it could cost upwards of $22,000 per year for each user. In addition, addicts would need to adhere to a strict schedule in order to receive their free drugs, and this may be difficult for a large portion of heroin addicts.

"They won't be able to use this because you need to show up at the same place and time several times a day," Anti-drug campaigner Mina Gerhardsen told the AP. "Many of these people are not capable of that."

Deaths from heroin overdoses are also a problem in America, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting that these numbers have quadrupled in the last decade. Many experts believe that the increase in heroin use may be traced back to overuse of opioid-based painkillers. One National Institutes of Health report showed that one in every 15 people prescribed opiates will go on to try heroin within 10 years.

Surges of heroin overdoses in the U.S. has prompted the availability of naloxone, a drug which can counteract the deadly effects of a heroin overdose if administered in time. According to Reuters, as of September, 43 of the 50 states, as well as Washington, D.C. introduced laws to increase the layperson’s access to naloxone.

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