Pubdate: Mon, 15 Jan 2001
Source: Nanaimo News-Bulletin (CN BC)
Copyright: 2001 Nanaimo News-Bulletin
Contact:  777B Poplar St. Naniamo, B.C. V9S 2H7
Fax: (250) 753 0788
Author: Paul Willcocks
Bookmarks: (Heroin) (Heroin Maintenance)


Let's make a point to the death of Constable Barry Schneider, the
Courtenay drug officer who died of a heroin overdose.

People were stunned by Schneider's death. He was a popular drug
awareness officer back working in his hometown and a father to two
young children. When he died back in November, everyone thought it was
a heart attack. Then the tests came in. Schneider died with cocaine
and a deadly dose of heroin in his veins.

We think of drug users as wretched figures shuffling down alleys in
Vancouver's East Side. Beyond help, not part of our world. That is
tragically, stupidly wrong. There are 15,000 heroin users in B.C. Many
fit the stereotype. Others are kids, grandparents, police officers,
loggers, moms, lawyers. They live in Vancouver and in Courtenay,
Prince George, Kitimat.

In 1999, 385 people died from different types of drug-induced deaths
in B.C. Five were under 20; five were at least 85. Between 1995 and
1999, 2,417 people died. Less than a third were from Vancouver. In
Courtenay and Campbell River there were 58; the North, 128.

Almost 400 people dead in one year, more than the number killed in
motor-vehicle accidents. I see what we're doing about motor vehicle
accidents - ads, prevention, massive spending, sweeping programs. We
must care about those people. And we must not care about Schneider and
his daughters and the rest of the drug victims and their families.

Back in 1994 former chief coroner Vince Cain reviewed the heroin issue
and came up with a common sense prescription, including more detox
centres, more treatment facilities and help for recovering addicts.
Most significantly, he recommended treating addiction as a health
issue, not a crime.

The report was largely ignored. Four years later, Dr. John Millar,
then B.C.'s chief medical officer, came up with the same solutions.

"Heroin in itself is not particularly devastating," he found. What
does more harm is the struggle to get money, the varying purity, the
poverty and the shared needles, which have led to an HIV and hepatitis

Millar also called for a central provincial substance abuse
commission, an immediate 50-percent increase in detox spaces and free
methadone. And he recommended a test of legal heroin. A Swiss pilot
program, involving 1,100 addicts, had produced a huge reduction in
criminal activity and an increase in employment. It eliminated
overdose deaths entirely. And more than 80 people even quit drugs
while using free legal heroin.

Those recommendations were also basically ignored. The provincial
government has made a small effort at expanding detox facilities, but
they remain inadequate.

It's not the government's fault. The number of deaths is not far off
the toll from breast  or prostate cancer, but you don't see community
fund-raising runs or awareness campaigns about overdoses. We don't
care about these people. We dismiss them as junkies, weak, doomed. So
politicians don't have to pay attention. Our attitudes make it safe
for politicians to treat drugs as a neighbourhood nuisance rather than
  as a deadly tragedy. Our approach keeps a criminal industry alive,
leaves addicts to steal or sell their bodies for drugs and denies them
the help they need. We sentence them to death, and ignore the
financial common sense of helping them.

(The Millar report estimated that providing methadone therapy to 1,500
more addicts, with counselling, would cost $6 million a year. It would
save $36 million in health care, policing and prison costs.)

Let's make Const. Schneider's death count. Let's begin treating drug
use as a serious health issue, not a criminal one. Let's begin to care.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake