Injection-drug users are extremely susceptible to drug-related health risks, including HIV, hepatitis C and overdose. Although treatments for drug addiction are available, they are not always effective for those with the most severe cases of addiction. A key issue is many members of this vulnerable population remain outside the health care system, which exposes injection-drug users and those in their immediate communities to drug-related health risks. Previous research studies in Europe and Canada have shown that medically prescribed heroin can effectively attract and retain injection-drug users into the health care system and can ultimately improve the health of this vulnerable population. Unfortunately, the negative stigma attached to the medical use of heroin is a barrier to its implementation in many settings. However, an alternative strategy was suggested by a Canadian study, which demonstrated that a small group of participants receiving a licensed pain medication experienced similar health improvements as those receiving medically prescribed heroin.
Dr. Eugenia Oviedo-Joekes’ research is studying whether alternative drug addiction treatments can be used to reach vulnerable populations remaining outside the health care system. She is conducting an innovative clinical trial to test whether licensed pain medications can successfully treat the most severe cases of heroin dependency and is studying how this approach compares to medically prescribed heroin. After patients are effectively stabilized with injection treatment, she will determine if pain medication administered as an oral liquid can be used instead of injections.
Dr. Oviedo-Joekes is focusing her work on a subpopulation of women and Aboriginal people that have experienced high rates of victimization, including physical and sexual abuse, or violent or traumatic experiences, which dramatically impact their health. She hopes these treatments will directly benefit those with the most severe cases of heroin addiction and she will also measure the beneficial impacts in their communities.