Providence Health Care Society launches constitutional challenge relating to heroin access 
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Susan Precious

Providence Health Care Society and five patients launched an action today in Vancouver challenging the federal government's Regulations Amending Certain Regulations Relating to Access to Restricted Drugs (the "Regulations")

The patients all have opioid dependencies for which they are treatment refractory.  They were all participants in the Study to Access Longer-Term Opioid Medication Effectiveness ("SALOME").  Their physicians made Special Access Program ("SAP") requests for diacetylmorphine, commonly known as heroin.

Health Canada operates the SAP under the Food and Drug Regulations.  The program allows medical practitioners to access drugs not otherwise available on a compassionate or emergency basis where the patients have serious or life threatening conditions and conventional therapies have failed or are not available.

On October 2, 2013, the federal government passed the Regulations.  The effect of the legislative changes was to prohibit the approval of SAPs for heroin.  Since October 4, 2013, all SAP requests for heroin have been denied.

The Plaintiffs argue the Regulations violate the division of powers in section 91 and 92 of the Constitution Act as the management of patients with severe opioid addictions relates to health care and is therefore within the exclusive jurisdiction of the province.  In addition, the Plaintiffs argue the Regulations violate section 7 and 15 of the Charter.

No doubt this case will build on the Insite decision and is one to monitor closely.

Article originally appeared on Branch MacMaster LLP: Barristers & Solicitors (
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