HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html HIV Spreads While Ottawa Ponders Drug Policy
Pubdate: Sat,  1 Sep 2001
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2001 Southam Inc.
Author: Michael Petrou
Bookmark: (Safe Injecting Rooms)


Critics: Health Canada Slow In Response To Call For Changes

OTTAWA - A federally funded research organization has criticized Health 
Canada for its "vague" response to a report that recommends radical changes 
to Canada's drug polices in order to reduce HIV and AIDS.

In 1999, the Canadian HIV/ AIDS Legal Network released a report 
commissioned by Health Canada that said HIV and AIDS is a crisis among 
injection drug users. It said Canada's drug policies make the problem worse 
by criminalizing drug use and forcing users to hide their addiction, share 
needles and avoid medical help.

The report recommended sweeping changes to Canadian drug policies, such as 
the establishment of safe injection sites, medical prescriptions for heroin 
and cocaine, and the decriminalization of small amounts of illegal drugs 
for personal use.

Yesterday, after almost two years, Health Canada released a response to the 

It acknowledges injection drug use is a "health and social issue" and says 
changes are needed to existing legal and policies. But Health Canada's 
response does not take a stand on some of the report's specific 
recommendations, such as permitting physicians to prescribe heroin and 
cocaine to AIDS patients suffering from withdrawal.

"What they've done in the response is make lots of really good statements 
and acknowledgements, but it is not a plan and there is no timeline," said 
Ralph Jurgens, executive director of the HIV/ AIDS Legal Network.

Mr. Jurgens did praise Allan Rock, federal Minister of Health, for 
addressing injection drug use as a health issue. He said the Minister is 
using language that suggests drug addicts are people with medical problems, 
not criminals.

But he said the department needs to back up this language with policies 
that end the criminalization of drug use.

Nina Arron, a policy co-ordinator in the HIV/AIDS division of Health 
Canada, defended her department's response.

She said Health Canada is willing to consider alternative policies to help 
drug addicts, such as safe injection sites and prescribing controlled 
substances, but she said completing the necessary research takes a long time.

"We're not running away from it, maybe moving a little slower than the 
Legal Network and others would like."

But Eugene Oscapella, an Ottawa lawyer and co-founder of the Canadian 
Foundation for Drug Policy, said the government's slow pace is costing drug 
addicts their lives. "There are programs right now that are ready to go. 
Safe injection sites, heroin maintenance programs -- we need these programs 
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