Pubdate: Thu, 09 Feb 2017
Source: Georgia Straight, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2017 The Georgia Straight
Author: Travis Lupick


Vancouver's Hedy Fry differs from the prime minister on where the
national dialogue on fentanyl should go

In 1999, Dr. Hedy Fry flew to Switzerland to learn about how the
European country had responded to a surge in drug-overdose deaths.

"I travelled around with the police," the Liberal MP for Vancouver
Centre recounted in a telephone interview. If they found someone
addicted to drugs who was injecting on the street, Fry continued, the
police would stop and offer to take the individual to a clinic where
there were a doctor and nurses.

"That person would register as an addict and would then, as a
registered addict, go to a clinic to get their drugs," she told the
Georgia Straight. "The state paid for opiates."

Fry recalled expressing skepticism to the officer serving as her tour

"I said, 'People in my part of the world will say that you are
enabling.' And he said, 'No, what we are doing is cutting off
organized crime. So people don't have to buy adulterated stuff; they
don't have to wallow in the dirt; and they don't have to mug people
and steal money to buy their stuff.' "

Fry noted that at the time, Vancouver was dealing with a drug crisis
similar to the one it struggles with today. Last year, illicit
narcotics killed 914 people in B.C. The synthetic opioid fentanyl was
linked to 60 percent of those deaths. In 1999, there were 272 fatal
overdoses in B.C.

Today in Vancouver, there's a small clinic in the Downtown Eastside
where a select group of patients receives prescription heroin, or
diacetylmorphine, as it is otherwise known. But it's a tough program
to get into and so far has enrolled barely more than 100 patients. The
Swiss initiative that Fry discussed would make prescription heroin
available with fewer hurdles and to a much wider population. What she
described was the legalization and regulation of hard drugs.

"This is the discourse that we must have now," Fry said. "Nobody is
ramming anything down anybody's throats. I'm not saying, 'Let's
legalize.' But I am saying, 'It's time we discussed this, openly and
publicly.' "

In calling for a debate about legalization, Fry steps out ahead of any
position taken by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The Straight recently reported that in a January 29 meeting with
stakeholders in Vancouver, Trudeau effectively said that legalization
was not going to happen.

"The main thing that I pressed is that we need to have legalization
and he tried to shut it right down," recounted Laurie Shaver,
president of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) and one
of the frontline responders with whom Trudeau met. "He said that he's
had such a hard time with the marijuana that with heroin it would be
even worse."

The Prime Minister's Office did not respond to an interview request by
deadline. On the campaign trail in March 2015, a journalist with the
UBC-based Cited podcast asked Trudeau for his position on

"I disagree with loosening any of the prohibition on harder drugs,"
Trudeau responded. "I think that there is much that we can and should
be doing around harm reduction. Insite is a great model of that, and I
certainly want to see more safe injection sites opened around the
country. And I am firm on the fact marijuana needs to be controlled
and regulated and that prohibition isn't working. But I'm not in
favour of loosening restrictions on harder drugs."

Fry listed a number of benefits she said have been studied at length
and proven in peer-reviewed literature. Those include significant
reductions in the risk of overdose death and decreases in both
criminal activity and in policing and health-care costs.

(One 2007 aggregate study that reviewed 10 years of scientific
literature covering heroin-assisted treatment [HAT] in six countries
was published in the New York Academy of Medicine's Journal of Urban
Health. It describes "overall positive results of completed HAT trials
undoubtedly justifying some role of HAT in the addiction treatment
landscape". It added, however: "The pressure is now on politics to use
the evidence generated in the interest of reduced harms and costs
related to the problem of heroin addiction.")

On January 18, the Straight reported that Don Davies, the NDP MP for
Vancouver Kingsway and Opposition health critic, has similarly said he
wants an open debate about legalizing hard drugs in response to the
fentanyl crisis.

"I think we are at the point, as a country, where we can start opening
a dialogue about finding a better method of distributing drugs,
legally, to those who are addicted to them so that we can avoid the
unnecessary death, destruction, and crime that is so clearly
associated with the current model [prohibition]," Davies said. "I am
in favour of starting that dialogue."

B.C.'s health minister and other high-level provincial officials have
similarly voiced support for prescription heroin.

Fry said she personally is against decriminalization (often referred
to as the Portugal Model). She noted that decriminalization would
leave B.C.'s drug supply in the hands of organized crime.

"It wouldn't touch the fentanyl part of all this," Fry emphasized.
Legalization would involve heavy regulations, she added, bringing
supply under government control to eliminate the risks of unwanted
substances like fentanyl and the much more toxic carfentanil.

"People will do whatever they need to do to get the drugs," she said.
"They are at the mercy of organized crime. This is what we are trying
to talk about. That criminality of it that we want to get rid of and
look at controlling."

Fry repeatedly noted that many studies have shown that legal-heroin
programs have worked in countries like Switzerland for more than a
decade now.

"Without suggesting that I think our government is going to do it, I
do think that it is time to talk about what is working in the rest of
the world," she said.
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MAP posted-by: Matt