Pubdate: Thu, 23 Aug 2012
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2012 The Toronto Star
Author: M.J. Milloy


Re: OxyContin replaced by explosion of small-town heroin use, Aug. 17

I was saddened, but not surprised, to read Megan Ogilvie's report of 
a recent spike in heroin use in small communities across Ontario, 
like my hometown of Peterborough, following the provincial 
government's moves to restrict access to oxycodone (OxyContin/OxyNeo).

Despite the best intentions of Ontario policymakers, it appears that 
individuals unable to get these powerful synthetic painkillers are 
turning to illicit sources of heroin, their natural substitute, and 
dramatically raising their risk of death from fatal overdose and 
infection with HIV.

Should these reports of increased heroin use be confirmed, it will be 
another example of how efforts to reduce illicit drug use by 
attacking the supply have failed and, in many cases, only served to 
exacerbate the damage addictive drugs do to individuals, communities 
and societies.

For example, data released by the United States' own officials in 
charge of the war on drugs shows that although their budget increased 
by more than 600 per cent from 1981 to 2011, the street price of 
heroin dropped by 80 per cent while purity increased 900 per cent. At 
the same time, prison populations increased ten-fold while the 
numbers of overdose deaths and HIV cases soared as illicit drug users 
were denied access to life-saving preventative measures.

To prevent the increase in deaths, diseases and misery that will come 
with the rise in heroin use, Ontario officials should urgently expand 
access to the medically proven tools that reduce the risks of heroin 
use. In particular, more people should be engaged in addiction 
treatment, especially methadone maintenance therapy, which has been 
shown the world over to reduce drug-related deaths, curb the spread 
of HIV and lower the social costs of drug use, like crime.

Law enforcement-based schemes to reduce the supply of drugs have 
proven to be expensive failures; humane, public health-based efforts 
to address the demand for illicit drugs are the way forward.

M.J. Milloy, PhD, Post-doctoral fellow, Faculty of Medicine, 
University of British Columbia, Vancouver
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