Pubdate: Tue, 26 Jun 2001
Source: West Australian (Australia)
Copyright: 2001 West Australian Newspapers Limited
Author: Alex Wodak


GEORGE O'NEIL is quite right to draw attention (Soapbox, 20/6) to the 
alarming increase in drug overdose deaths in Australia over the past 
30 years. The increase in these deaths is a national scandal.

What distinguishes Western medicine from traditional forms of health 
care is rigorous scientific evaluation of the benefits and 
side-effects of new treatments. This is why Western medicine 
continues to make slow progress, even in some of the most intractable 
health problems.

New treatments are assumed to be ineffective and unsafe until proved 
otherwise. These new treatments are evaluated in very carefully 
designed and conducted small trials before being introduced on a 
routine basis. A tradition has been built up to protect the interests 
of people taking part in this research.

Injecting drug users are among the most vulnerable people in 
Australia. The rights of all people have to be carefully protected in 
medical research, especially our most vulnerable citizens.

Unfortunately, Dr O'Neil did not introduce naltrexone implants within 
this scientific tradition. That is why he now feels the heat of the 
blow torch rather than being recognised as a national saviour.

Almost every time we depart from these careful scientific traditions, 
society pays a heavy price. Never is this more true than when 
communities try to deal with mood-altering drugs. Naltrexone implants 
may well be a major advance in managing this difficult condition, but 
we will find out the real benefits and real side-effects of this new 
treatment using only rigorous scientific research.

Dr ALEX WODAK, director,
Alcohol and Drug Service,
St Vincent's Hospital, Sydney.
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