<p>Lindsay LaSalle 510-847-8064<br />
Tommy McDonald 510-338-8827</p>
Today, the Nevada State Senate will hold the first-ever legislative hearing on heroin-assisted treatment. Senate Bill 275, which would establish a four-year pilot program, will be heard in the Revenue and Economic Development Committee at 3:30 p.m. today.
Heroin-assisted treatment, also known as heroin maintenance, is an effective, and cost-saving strategy for reducing drug use and drug-related harm among long-term heroin users for whom other treatment programs, like residential rehabilitation or methadone, have failed.
Though heroin-assisted treatment programs currently serve nearly 3,100 patients in over 50 clinics in five different countries (including in the United Kingdom, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark), with additional clinical trials currently operating in Belgium and Canada, today’s hearing marks the first time a legislative body in the United States will hear testimony in support of the development and implementation of a heroin-assisted treatment pilot project.
“Giving street heroin addicts pure, legal heroin may sound crazy at first,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, “But there are good reasons why it’s now official policy in many European countries. It cuts crime, and overdoses, and helps people addicted to heroin for whom nothing else has worked – and it saves taxpayers money. That’s why it’s supported not just by public health officials but police chiefs as well.”
Today’s hearing presents an opportunity for advocates like Nadelmann as well as scientific experts, such as the principal investigator of Canada’s North American Opiate Medication Initiative (NAOMI), Dr. Martin Schechter, to convince the Committee that heroin-assisted treatment is not as controversial or radical as it may seem at first blush. Virtually every published evaluation of heroin maintenance has shown extremely positive outcomes: major reductions in illicit drug use, crime, disease and overdose; and improvements in health, well-being, social reintegration, and treatment retention.
Dr. Evan Wood, a University of British Columbia professor and doctor who has treated heroin users as part of the Canadian studies, hopes to bring his front-line perspective before the Committee as well as the perspective of those he treats.
One such patient, Donnie Cinnamon, who has not used any street drugs while on heroin maintenance, will submit written testimony that heroin-assisted treatment has “made [his] life more stable” and has improved his mental health, socialization, and nutrition because he no longer needs to spend his days in search of his next fix.
Joshua Livernois, an outreach worker for Northern Nevada Outreach Team (NNOT), and long-time heroin user, is also submitting testimony in the hope that, should SB275 pass, he might be eligible for and benefit from heroin-assisted treatment like Donnie and the many others for whom heroin maintenance is the only treatment that works.