Pubdate: Tue, 25 Apr 2000
Source: Province, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2000 The Province
Contact:  200 Granville Street, Ste. #1, Vancouver, BC V6C 3N3 Canada
Fax: (604) 605-2323
Author: Adrienne Tanner


A proposal by MLA Jenny Kwan to widen the distribution of a life-saving 
heroin overdose antidote was once considered and rejected by Vancouver 
health officials.

Kwan yesterday announced her support for training drug users to administer 
the drug Narcan as a way to reduce overdose deaths.

Narcan kick-starts the respiratory system, which can fail during a drug 

"The reality is there are people who are drug users and they are not at the 
stage in their life where they are prepared to stop using drugs," Kwan said.

This, along with other harm-reduction and rehabilitation measures, could 
help save lives, she said.

Narcan programs have proved successful in Chicago and Britain, said Kwan, 
who recently attended a health conference in Seattle.

Dr. John Blatherwick, chief medical health officer of the 
Vancouver/Richmond Health Board, said the idea sounded good to him at first.

But two years ago, after careful study, he concluded doling out Narcan 
might delay rescuers from calling an ambulance.

The program is useful in cities such as Chicago that have poor ambulance 
service but here, ambulances are quick to respond, he said.

Most overdose deaths are caused by a combination of drugs and occur when 
users wander off on their own. If people slip out of sight, neither a 
friend carrying Narcan nor a paramedic will be any help, Blatherwick said.

Cpl. Scott Rintoul, who heads the RCMP drug-awareness unit, says Narcan 
only acts for a short time. It is still necessary to call an ambulance 
because after 20 minutes, the heroin kicks in again and the overdose continues.

He fears distributing Narcan will give drug users a false sense of 
security. "It's a dangerous message, extremely dangerous."

While the debate intensifies, people on the streets continue to die, says 
health outreach worker Byron Cruz.

He says Kwan's idea has merit and complains the health board takes such a 
conservative approach that innovative programs are seldom given a chance.

"If we are going to give out Narcan, we would really need to train people 
properly," he said. Today, only hospitals and paramedics are authorized to 
administer the drug.

Cruz said that even if drug users are not included in the program, there 
are dozens of health and outreach workers on the streets who could save 
lives if properly trained.

In Pigeon Park, on Hastings Street, the proposal got a mixed review from 
drug users.

"I've OD'd and come back to life 11 times," said Donald Winsell, recounting 
his first-hand experiences with Narcan.

He said it would be a good idea to distribute it to heroin users, but his 
eyes closed and he nodded off before he could explain why.

Vicki Joy was more skeptical. "It may be enabling people just to carry on," 
she said.

"They give us free needles and everything. It's gone too far."

She said she would feel uneasy about administering a drug to a friend. 
"What if that person died? I couldn't stand it."
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