BC Supreme Court grants injunction providing access to heroin assisted treatment

Media Advisory – May 29, 2014

Vancouver – On Thursday, May 29, 2014, Chief Justice Hinkson of the BC Supreme Court granted an injunction to the participants in the SALOME study (The Study to Assess Long-term Opioid Maintenance Effectiveness) providing an exemption from new federal regulations that prohibit doctors from prescribing heroin to patients for whom other treatment options have been ineffective. 

In November 2013, the plaintiffs in the case – Providence Health Care Society, Deborah Bartosch, Charles English, Douglas Lidstrom, Larry Love and David Murray – brought an action against the federal government alleging that new regulations violate Canada’s constitution. Pivot is representing the five individual patients whose health improved while in the SALOME study and who could no longer access the treatment once their time in the study was over. The plaintiffs went to court in March 2014 seeking an injunction exempting them from the amendments while the case makes its way to trial.

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Pivot and Providence Health, who is also a plaintiff in the case, will be holding a press conference at 12:30 PM to announce and share the decision. 

What: Press conference on BC Supreme Court ruling on injunction application for access to prescription heroin.

When: May 29, 2014 at 12:30PM

Where: Providence Health Care, 1190 Hornby, 2nd Floor

In his judgement, Justice Hinkson stated, "I find that the risks identified by Dr. Woods and Buxton are risks faced by the personal plaintiffs, and by those on whose behalf they apply, which will be reduced if they receive injectable diacetylmorphine treatment from Providence physicians. These potential harms are clearly irreparable in nature.” He continued, "I accept that the potential harms facing the personal plaintiffs, and those on whose behalf they apply, are grave and that an award of damages will be of little, if any, assistance to them. As such, those harms must weigh heavily in the balance, particularly given that the exemption requested by the applicants does not cause any material harm to the government pending the ultimate resolution of this matter at trial. While I must keep in mind Sopinka and Cory JJ.’s statements as to the caution required when considering whether to deprive duly enacted legislation of its effect on an interlocutory basis, I find that on the evidence before me an order to that effect is justified."

Federal Minister of Health Rona Ambrose introduced the amendments to the Food and Drug Regulations in October 2013 to make diacetylmorphine (heroin) ineligible for access through Health Canada’s Special Access Programme (SAP). The SAP is designed to let patients in exceptional circumstances get medications normally not available in Canada. SAP access is limited to patients with serious or life-threatening conditions on a compassionate or emergency basis when conventional therapies have failed, are unsuitable, or are unavailable. Through the SAP, Health Canada provided approval to doctors at Providence Health Care to continue diacetylmorphine treatment for 21 of the participants exiting the SALOME research study. Ambrose’s amendments to the SAP program quashed Health Canada’s approval prohibiting access to the treatment.

The Decision will be available at the press conference.

Adrienne Smith, lawyer, Pivot Legal Society