Pubdate: Mon, 03 Oct 2016
Source: Vancouver 24hours (CN BC)
Copyright: 2016 Vancouver 24 hrs.
Author: Garth Mullins
Page: 6


Columnists Brent Stafford and Garth Mullins battle over the issues of
the day.

The Duel

Prescription heroin for addiction treatment in B.C.? It's about

As hundreds die from fentanyl overdoses, Health Canada has ended
Harper's ban on prescription heroin. And it's about time.

There's a fatal overdose every 12 hours in B.C. Over the years, I've
had to resuscitate four people and known dozens who've died.

For people deep in addiction, medical treatment with heroin is much
safer than adulterated, often-lethal street drugs. It reduces harm to
the community too.

Patients get diacetylmorphine (pharmacy-grade heroin) injections at
clinics up to three times daily. They see doctors, nurses and
counselors. Overdoses and the spread of HIV or hepatitis C decrease.
With the certainty of scheduled medication, patients end the
relentless, life-consuming search for a fix just to stave off dope
sickness. Cycles of sex work, crime, jail and hospitalization are
interrupted. Stability returns. People re-connect with community and

Its old hat, really. Studies going back to the 1950s and regular
practice in some European countries show it works. Like nicotine
patches for smoking and methadone for opiate addiction - something
dangerous is swapped for something less harmful.

But prescription heroin isn't for just any drug user. It's for the 15%
who've injected street heroin every day for years and nothing else
works - including methadone.

While overdose death rates started climbing, former Conservative
Health Minister banned this treatment "to take heroin out of the hands
of addicts, not to put it into their arms." A nice sentiment that in
practice is a death sentence.

So, drug users took the government to court, where Douglas Lidstrom
explained how prescription heroin changed his life. After decades of
chronic heroin use, his health, housing, work and family relationships
were in bad shape. He tried quitting, detox and methadone many times.

Then, Lidstrom joined the SALOME prescription heroin study. Everything
changed. With regular injections, he stopped using street drugs, got
back in touch with his kids and stayed out of trouble with police. It
was the same for others in the study.

At last, heroin is being prescribed at a Vancouver clinic - a good
start. But it must be rolled out quickly for those who need it
wherever they live - along with safe injection sites,
overdose-reversing Naloxone and treatment beds.

Prescription heroin costs about a third of what taxpayers spend on
police, ambulances, jails and courts for every deeply entrenched,
untreated opiate user.

"Just say no" and the "war on drugs" failed. Let's try something that
actually works.
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