TORONTO - An aging construction worker arrived quietly in the
building's basement, took his seat alongside three other men and
struck his lighter below a cooker of synthetic heroin.
A woman, trained to intervene in case of an overdose, placed a mask
over her face as his drug cooked and diluted beneath a jumping flame.
He injected himself, grew still and then told of the loss of his wife
who died alone in her room upstairs - an overdose that came just a few
months before this social service nonprofit opened its doors for
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Studies show controlled drug use can reduce consumption of street
As the opioid crisis rages on across North America, a number of recent
studies are pointing to cannabis and prescription heroin as viable
options in curbing the consumption of lethal street opiates, reducing
long-term medical and policing costs and extending the lives of users.
An analysis of opioid prescriptions in the U.S.published on Monday by
the American Medical Association showed a significant decrease in
opioid prescriptions in states that have adopted some sort of cannabis
legislation. Using data from 2010 to 2015, the analysis counted 3.7
million fewer daily doses of opioids prescribed in states that allow
weed dispensaries, while states that allow only home cultivation saw a
decrease of 1.8 million daily prescribed doses.
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Every morning, Kevin Thompson takes a short stroll from his apartment
to the Crosstown Clinic, where he signs in, gets his prescription
medicine, then sits in a small room and injects it before heading off
He follows this routine up to three times a day and has done so
virtually every day for more than a dozen years.
The medicine is diacetylmorphine, the medical term for prescription
"It saved my life. No question, it saved my life," Mr. Thompson, 47,
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The Taliban in Afghanistan is now running significant heroin
production lines in the war-torn country to provide jihadists and
insurgents with billions of dollars, western law enforcement officials
And much of that heroin is flowing into Canada.
"More than 90 per cent of all heroin consumed in the US is of Mexican
origin. But in Canada more than 90 per cent of the heroin consumed is
of Afghan origin," said William Brownfield, US Assistant Secretary for
Drugs and Law Enforcement when addressing reporters in the Afghan
capital Kabul recently.
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The deadly painkiller fentanyl, thrust under a spotlight by a rare
warning by three health agenices and city police, isn't the only
dangerous street drug raising eyebrows in London.
Heroin is also showing up, in levels-those who work with addicts say
they haven't seen before.
One agency blames the spike on the province tightening the
prescription drugs it covers under a program for people on social
assistance and seniors, which has driven some users to heroin instead.
"I've never known it (heroin) here. Now it is," said Karen Burton,
needle and syringe program coordinator at Regional HIV/AIDS Connection
in London, whose work includes a drug needle exchange program. "Heroin
is here and I don't see it disappearing anytime soon."
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VANCOUVER - Addiction experts from five European countries say their
experience with prescription heroin programs have provided
overwhelming evidence to suggest Canada should expand its one clinic
in the midst of a deadly opioid crisis.
Researchers from the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, the
United Kingdom and Canada held a symposium in Vancouver on Friday to
share lessons they've learned from multiple clinical trials and years
Wim van den Brink of the Netherlands told a news conference that some
European programs started as a way to deal with the public nuisance of
drug use but the medical health benefits improved people's quality of
life and saved money in the criminal justice system.
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Ottawa's health unit supports prescribing heroin to treat severe
addicts and at least one treatment clinic is considering it as the
city fights the rising rates of overdoses from it and similar opioid
"We really see it as more an extension of our opiate substitution
therapy program than part of our supervised injection efforts," said
Rob Boyd, the head of the drug-treatment programs at the Sandy Hill
Community Health Centre on Rideau Street. Boyd has been leading the
charge to add an injection site to the centre's existing methadone
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A public suggestion by the provincial coroner to provide heroin to
addicts is turning some heads.
The comments by chief coroner Lisa Lapointe last week came after it
was learned 116 people in this province died of overdoses from illicit
drugs in January.
It's widely believed the deaths are a result of fentanyl, a drug 100
times stronger than morphine.
Lapointe said the people who have died haven't been successful in a
variety of treatment programs.
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Re: "Is free heroin the best route?" editorial, Feb. 7.
Most certainly. After free needles are provided to citizens with
diabetes, everyone gets free legal drugs that are prescribed by
physicians, B.C. parks are properly funded, citizens on disability get
drugs free, the E&N is fully funded so passenger trains again run, a
Malahat bypass is built, highways are properly maintained, ferries are
free for everyone who lives on Vancouver Island, etc.
Until then, no free heroin should even be considered. People need to
be responsible for the consequences of their actions.
The overdose crisis, especially in British Columbia, has become an
issue of moral panic, and everyone is paying attention.
The B.C. Coroner's Report for 2016 revealed a shocking number of
deaths from overdose - 914, which far surpassed previous records and
is nearly three times the number of deaths from automobile collisions.
This crisis impacts us all and it requires a radical shift in the ways
all provinces provide health care.
Unfortunately, the human and financial toll continues to rise because
we continue to view illicit substance use as a moral and criminal
issue rather than the healthcare issue it is. As a health-care social
worker on the front line, I am lending my voice to those with
substance-use disorders, the ostracized and overlooked.
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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.
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Prescribing medicinal heroin to prevent overdose deaths might appear
to clash with common sense, but the provincial health officer in B.C.
is backing the idea because he says European-style drug treatment
The arrival of the powerful opioid fentanyl drove B.C.'s death toll to
a new peak last year of 914 overdose deaths, almost 80 per cent higher
than the 510 deaths recorded by the provincial coroner in 2015.
Dr. Perry Kendall said he wants support from colleagues in health care
and law enforcement to push the province to create treatment programs
that prescribe a pharmaceutical-grade version of heroin, called
diacetylmorphine. "It may be counterintuitive for people, but they
have been shown to improve functioning, improve physical health,
improve mental health," said Kendall. "They certainly get people out
of illegal drug markets and many of those people have gone on to have
relatively stable lives."
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As of the end of November, 755 people had died of drug overdoses in B.C.
Prescription heroin could greatly reduce this toll.
One of the principal reasons for the large number of overdose deaths has
been the increasing presence of fentanyl, an opioid 100 times more
powerful than heroin. Fentanyl is often substituted for, or added to,
other illegal drugs.
A single envelope of pure fentanyl is enough to produce thousands of pills
and tens of thousands of dollars in profit. One kilogram of fentanyl,
which can be purchased online for less than $100,000, is enough to produce
one million pills that can be sold for $20 each.
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Re: "Teen in suspected drug death 'honour student led astray,' " Dec.
27. As a retired psychologist, I'm trying to understand why so far this
year about 755 human beings have died of overdoses in B.C.
I've observed that Grade "A" addicts live only to consume drugs such
as fentanyl-laced heroin regardless of whether it might kill them.
Many pay drug dealers with the proceeds of crime and leave a swath of
victims, including those who love them, in their wake. Eventually,
their self-destructive antics wear out those charged to help them,
such as police, firefighters, paramedics, hospital staff, social
workers and counsellors who eventually succumb to compassion fatigue.
Though a courageous step, safe-injection sites appear to simply
maintain this grisly status quo.
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Re: "New toxic drugs add to overdose crisis: coroner," Dec. 20. Is
everyone involved in the management (or mismanagement) of this problem
ignoring the one solution to this problem that has been effect in
England for years?
It's called prescribed heroin for certified addicts. It has to be
cheaper than all the emergency services that are being flung at it. It
would certainly save lives. As yet, I haven't seen or heard of anyone
in a position to effect change espousing the advantages of such a
program. Surely it's worth a look.
Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs also suggests supervised
injecting rooms to combat rising number of drug deaths
Heroin on prescription and supervised injecting rooms are among a
range of measures that the government's drug advisers have suggested
to reverse the UK's soaring numbers of drug deaths.
Responding to a sharp rise in the number of heroin-related deaths in
recent years, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs said
maintenance of drug treatment programmes was essential to prevent
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This Christmas, Dianne Tobin will celebrate one year free of heroin.
It will be the longest she's remained off the drug in 40 years.
"It's been touchy at times, because I went down [in dosage] so fast,"
she told the Georgia Straight over coffee in the Downtown Eastside.
"It was tough at first, going down so much at one time. But it was
working for me."
Tobin owes her success at getting off street heroin to an
unconventional therapy: since the winter of 2011, a doctor has
prescribed her diacetylmorphine, or prescription heroin.
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Columnists Brent Stafford and Garth Mullins battle over the issues of
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.
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This Week's Topic: Should prescription heroin be made available for
addiction treatment in B.C.?
Why does the left always fall in favour of making drugs more widely
available to society? Social conservatives are certainly not the ones
clamouring to legalize marijuana, drown citizens in more booze or
readily handout heroin. What is it about the left? The only conclusion
one could come to is the left's political and social agendas are
somehow advanced by promoting a dulled, inebriated and wasted
constituency. This is how the left prefers its voters.
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Re "In praise of heroin" (Dr. Gifford Jones, Aug. 27): I am currently
fighting my fourth and (unfortunately) final battle with cancer. And,
believe me, it scares me to think I will be refused heroin when the
time comes that I need it. And all because some so-called minister of
health for Ontario has decided, in his wisdom, that doctors can no
longer prescribe high doses of opioids to terminal cancer patients or
addicts. Further, the statement by an official that "the vast
majority of palliative patients will not be impacted by this policy"
leaves me wondering why he holds this position, when we all know the
first requirement to being a good doctor is having a heart for
people. Shame on this unnamed minister of health for Ontario. He
should be drummed out of office, post haste.
Stella Mazzacato Mississauga
(Turning a blind eye to drug use by prisoners while denying heroin to
terminally ill patients for pain makes no sense. This policy needs to