Against the opposition of a lot of dim bulbs, public health officials in Vancouver have just launched a pilot program to give out hydromorphone pills to heroin addicts. Lock the doors!
This week, The Globe and Mail reported: “Ottawa has approved a pilot project that will allow health officials in B.C. to distribute clean opioids to drug users to use as they please, marking one of the province’s most radical efforts to address a fentanyl-saturated drug supply that has killed more than 1,000 people this year.”
In this program, users at high risk of overdose will be allowed to register. They can then pick up hydromorphone pills at either supportive housing units or supervised consumption facilities, two or three times a day. They self-administer at will, using whatever method they like. Most will likely choose to crush, cook and inject them.
Critics whine they’ll share with others. The official response: So what? Those others, too, are avoiding death by fentanyl and the other toxins their getting the underground market. But, the officials also note that sharing or selling on of the hydromorphone will be limited by the need of the addicted to maintain their own limited supplies.
Is this a surrender to man’s worst instincts? Does it represent a philosophical shift that will send Canadian culture into a downward spiral of immorality and decay? Did somebody hit these doctors in the head with a stupid stick?
After more than a hundred years of banning opiates we can say with a fair degree of certainty that people who do not use drugs are not going to start them just because they can get their hands on safer opiates. Of course, keeping opiates out of the hands of minors is of critical importance, and anyone sharing with a minor will get the equivalent of a “Do not pass go” card and go straight to jail. Adolescence is an age of both risk taking and vulnerability to addiction. But, adults exposed to opiates seldom get addicted and the vast majority shun that exposure to begin with. Treatment specialist Dr. Sally Satel has noted that people who are prescribed opiate medications are more likely to set them aside without using them than to abuse them. And, government keeps telling us to clear all those unused pills out of our medicine chest. There would be few unused pills if most of us were incipient junkies looking to get high.
While this is just a small start in Canada, I am betting the evidence will be clear in time that adult use toleration is the smart way to get drugs and addiction under control. Of course, I would. I wrote a book suggesting it six years ago.
See my reform idea at Reform Drug Policy Project.