After 30 years of promoting abstinence from drugs without success, a researcher says it’s time to wean off addicts slowly, even if it means giving them free heroin.

Eugenia Oviedo-Joekes, principal investigator in a trial study being conducted in Vancouver and Montreal, said innovative treatments are needed.

“We need alternatives because for any other disease we have alternative pills, approaches and treatments and for addiction the only alternative that people can visualize is abstinence,” said Oviedo-Joekes.

Roughly 290 heroin users will take part in the $1-million publicly funded study receiving heroin or Dilaudid under the Study to Assess Longer-term Opioid Medication Effectiveness — Salome.

Those involved will not know which drug they are receiving in an attempt to focus on using substitution as an exit strategy.

The trial is the next step following the North American Opiate Medication Initiative (Naomi) that ended last June with positive health outcomes and criminal and illicit activity down.

Trish Walsh, executive director with the InnerChange Foundation, stressed the importance of realizing addiction stigmas. “We have to start shifting our focus from thinking addiction is a moral failing to a health concern. This is medication for a health concern,” said Walsh.