In a new harm reduction effort to curb the rising drug overdose mortality rate in Norway, the country will test a program that will prescribe free heroin to individuals who have serious drug dependency issues.
Norway’s health minister, Bente Hoie, said that the harm reduction program, in which health clinics provide heroin free for users, is intended to give a better life to those who have tried other programs and have not gotten relief.
This kind of program has been tried elsewhere, including neighboring Denmark, where supporters have said that it has helped reduce the overdose and crime rates. The costs of both have been mitigated as well.
Norway’s Country Drug report revealed in 2014 that 266 residents died in drug-related incidents. Instead of pursuing punitive measures to stop drug use, in 2017 Norway became the first country to decriminalize drugs.
The country’s current initiative extends to what the Deputy Chairman of the Storting Health Committee, Sveinung Stensland, said was a “changed vision” in 2014. He said that those struggling with substance abuse should be treated as ill, not as criminals with the usual punishments of fines and imprisonment.
The government of Norway tasked the Directorate for Health and Social Affairs to develop the program. It is slated to begin in 2020. The pilot program will prescribe heroin for up to 400 people. But how the patients will be selected and how much of the drug they will be given has not been mentioned.
According to the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction, Norway has one of the highest rates of death from drug-related overdoses in Europe. The country had 81 deaths per million in 2015. Comparing other countries in the region, Estonia has 132 deaths per million and Sweden has 22.
Programs like this one have shown promise to reduce overdose rates and improving the quality of life for those with heroin addiction.
In 1998, the Netherlands established a program that treats patients who have used heroin on a regular basis for five years or more. They found that no relief from other forms of treatment, including methadone.
Then in 2016, the country reported 235 opioid overdose deaths, a substantially lower number than the rates reported by the state of Ohio, which was home to 4,050 deaths that year.