Prescription heroin is, reportedly, being offered by doctors in Vancouver, British Columbia, to a few severely addicted individuals in the city.

It is claimed that this is the first time in North America that the narcotic has been dispensed outside a clinical trial.

Crosstown Clinic run by Providence Health Care will begin dispensing the first batch of prescription heroin produced in a lab in Switzerland.

"It is very dangerous and life destroying to have to ingest in an alley, to use illicit heroin three, four times a day. That destroys lives. This is an alternative."

Commenting on the move, Crosstown Clinic Dr Scott MacDonald said: "The first patients to receive prescription heroin outside of a clinical trial will be a small number of people who took part in his two research trials, and want to remain under medical care.

"It is very dangerous and life destroying to have to ingest in an alley, to use illicit heroin three, four times a day. That destroys lives. This is an alternative."

For more than a year, doctors have been battling over the right to continue prescribing heroin to patients who had finished being part of a clinical research trial.

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The drug was approved for supply to 120 severely addicted individuals with prescription heroin, who were previously part of the trial.

MacDonald added: "Some patients who took part in the trials have been able to reconnect with families and bring stability back to their lives, instead of shooting up in alleyways three or four times a day.

"I think all the clinicians at the clinic have seen the great beneficial effect that this treatment can have on people – hard-to-reach populations that may have been using on the streets for 15, 20, 25 even 30 years."