The program is intended to give a “better quality of life” to those battling heroin addiction, according to the country’s health minister.
In an effort to curb a rising drug overdose mortality rate, Norway will test a program that will prescribe free heroin to individuals with serious dependency issues.
The country’s health minister, Bente Hoie, said that the program is intended to give a “better quality of life” to those for whom current programs do not provide enough relief.
The Norwegian program echoes similar initiatives in neighboring Denmark and the Netherlands, which supporters said has helped to reduce overdose and crime rates, as well as the costs associated with both.
In 2014, Norway’s Country Drug report revealed that 266 residents succumbed to drug-related deaths that year. Rather than adopting punitive measures to curb drug use, it became the first Scandinavian country to decriminalize drugs in 2017.
The current initiative appears to extend to what Sveinung Stensland, deputy chairman of the Storting Health Committee, said in 2014 was a “changed vision—those who have a substance abuse problem should be treated as ill, and not as criminals with classical sanctions such as fines and imprisonment.”
The Norwegian government tasked its Directorate for Health and Social Affairs to develop the initiative, which is slated to begin in 2020. “We want to help those who are difficult to reach, those who are not part of drug-assisted rehabilitation and who are difficult to treat,” said Hoie.
The pilot program will prescribe heroin for up to 400 patients; how the patients will be selected and how much of the drug they will receive has not been announced.
According to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, Norway has one of the highest rates of death from drug-related overdoses in Europe, with 81 deaths per million as of 2015. Neighboring Estonia has 132 deaths per million, and Sweden has 22 deaths per million.
Programs like the proposed initiative in Norway have shown promise in reducing overdose rates and improving the quality of life for those with heroin dependency.
The Netherlands established its program in 1998 and treats patients who have used heroin on a regular basis for five or more years and found no relief from other forms of treatment, including methadone-maintenance therapy.
In 2016, the country reported just 235 opioid overdose deaths, a substantially lower number than the rates reported by the state of Ohio, which saw 4,050 deaths that same year.