Health Canada

Health Canada

October 03, 2013 13:13 ET

Heroin and Other Dangerous Drugs Are Banned from Health Canada's Special Access Programme

Government of Canada Puts Safety and Security of Canadians First and Focuses on Treatment and Recovery

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwired - Oct. 3, 2013) - Joined by doctors, health experts, Canadians who have battled with addiction, as well as representatives from Canada's diverse cultural communities, the Honourable Rona Ambrose, Minister of Health, today fulfilled her promise from September 20 to protect the integrity of the Special Access Programme by removing doctors' ability to prescribe dangerous drugs such as heroin and cocaine to their patients through the Special Access Programme.

"This program provides emergency access to life-saving medicine. It was never intended to provide heroin to addicts, and we are taking action to close this loophole," said Minister Ambrose. "Our Government understands that dangerous drugs like heroin have a horrible impact on Canadian families and their communities. We will continue to support drug treatment and recovery programs that work to get Canadians off drugs in a safe way."

The new regulations, which come into effect immediately, will ensure that products containing heroin, cocaine or other restricted drugs (for example LSD, ecstasy, 'magic' mushrooms, and 'bath salts') will no longer be eligible for authorization for individual patient use under the SAP.

"As one of an estimated 4.6 million Canadians living in long term recovery from the disease of addiction I can tell you that recovery works," said Marshall Smith, Manager of Community Relations for the Cedars at Cobble Hill Addiction Treatment Centre on Vancouver Island. "We must keep recovery first rejecting the notion that anyone is hopeless, I applaud the government for their strong stance supporting treatment. Recovery works from the inside out, not the outside in."

Health Canada remains committed to the National Anti-Drug Strategy (NADS), which aims to reduce and prevent the use of illicit drugs across the country. The three pillars of the strategy are prevention, treatment, and enforcement.

"Heroin treatment is unsafe and very expensive, and does not address the treatment needs of the tens of thousands of Canadians who are addicted to prescription opioids," said Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, University of Toronto, Meldon Kahan. "Addiction treatments such as methadone, buprenorphine and morphine could dramatically reduce these harms, it is my hope that addiction physicians, policy makers and the public will not be distracted by flawed treatment approaches and will instead focus on the real needs of opioid-addicted patients and the communities they live in."

Under the new regulations, products containing heroin or unauthorized forms of cocaine or other restricted drugs (for example LSD, ecstasy, and 'magic' mushrooms) will not be eligible for authorization for individual patient use under the SAP. Doctors will not be able to prescribe heroin or other restricted drugs. Other approved treatments for addictions treatment, including methadone, are not affected by this change.

"As a community leader, I see the effects drugs have on our youth," said Dr. Jai Li, President of the Ontario Acupuncture & Traditional Chinese Medicine Examination Committee, and Member of the Government of Canada Advisory Council on Traditional Chinese Medicine. "I support treating addiction and recovery and applaud the Government for their efforts."

The new regulations will come into effect immediately.

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Changes to Special Access Program (SAP)

New regulations introduced in October 2013 will prevent future access to certain unauthorized controlled substances for individual patient treatment through Health Canada's Special Access Programme (SAP).

The vast majority of requests that the program receives each year, which are from physicians seeking treatment for patients with substances not on the restricted list, will continue to be evaluated.

This change does not affect clinical trials or university research under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

What is the Special Access Programme?

The Special Access Programme (SAP) allows practitioners to request access to drugs that are unavailable for sale in Canada. This 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.

Which Drugs Will Be Affected?

Under the new regulations, products containing heroin, unauthorized forms of cocaine or other restricted drugs (for example LSD, ecstasy, 'magic' mushrooms, and 'bath salts') will not be eligible for authorization for individual patient use under the SAP.


The new regulations will come into effect immediately and will more clearly align the Special Access Programme with other government programmes including the National Anti-Drug Strategy.

Contact Information

  • Media Inquiries:
    Michael Bolkenius
    Office of the Honourable Rona Ambrose
    Federal Minister of Health
    (613) 957-0200

    Health Canada
    Media Relations
    (613) 957-2983

    Public Inquiries:
    (613) 957-2991
    1-866 225-0709