French Policy Helped Reduce Heroin Overdoses By 79%

In the 1980s and 90s, France was experiencing a crushing heroin epidemic. In1995, France made it so any doctor could prescribe buprenorphine – with dramatic results.

As reported by the Atlantic, in the 1980s, France went through a heroin epidemic in which hundreds of thousands became addicted. Mohamed Mechmache, a community activist, described the scene in the poor banlieues back then: “To begin with, they would disappear to shoot up. But after a bit we’d see them all over the place, in the stairwells and halls, the bike shed, up on the roof with the washing lines. We used to collect the syringes on the football pitch before starting to play,” he told The Guardian in 2014.

The rate of overdose deaths was rising 10 percent a year, yet treatment was mostly limited to counseling at special substance-abuse clinics.

In 1995, France made it so any doctor could prescribe buprenorphine without any special licensing or training. Buprenorphine, a first-line treatment for opioid addiction, is a medication that reduces cravings for opioids without becoming addictive itself.

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“It seems that the French model raises questions about the value of tight regulations imposed by many countries throughout the world,” wrote the author of a study on the phenomenon, the French psychiatrist Marc Auriacombe, in 2004.

Just what are these regulations? In the United States, doctors must take a special, eight-hour class to get a waiver that allows them to prescribe buprenorphine. The classes can cost money and force even more tasks into doctors’ already packed schedules. In one study, 10 percent of doctors said they didn’t even know how to get the waiver.

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To learn more about how France dramatically lowered the number of overdoses through medically assisted treatment, please visit The Atlantic.

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