Outside view: Free heroin in Canada

By Rachel Marsden
Outside View Commentator

Vancouver, BC, Apr. 11 (UPI) -- The Canadian government has decided to issue free heroin to heroin addicts at a cost of $8 million of taxpayers' money starting this week, in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Every leftist politician I've spoken with, and every Canadian media report I've seen, parrots the "success" of the same Swiss study as justification for this scheme. But what no one has pointed out is that this Swiss study was deemed to be an abject failure in 1999 in a World Health Organization External Evaluation Panel report.

Subsequently, a letter to the International Narcotics Control Board from the director-general of the WHO concluded that the project was an "observational study without the possibility of making reliable unbiased comparisons between treatment options." It did "not provide clear evidence for the benefits of heroin treatment over other substitution agents." The project established "no causal link ... between prescription of heroin and improvements in health or social status ..." Therefore, "it is difficult to conclude that the available results of this Swiss study could assist any other country ..."

However, when asked about the Vancouver free heroin trials, University of Amsterdam Center for Drug Research Director Dr. Peter Cohen explained why he was still all for the idea, "Opiates are remarkably nontoxic and impose very little health hazards. However, the junkification of users that happens to some of them is not a result of the opiates, but of the social conditions in which people land. Intense marginalization under conditions of prohibition 'creates' junkies ... Now, if you supply heroin to users, you relieve them from the black market and you supply self esteem to them which creates all sorts of possibilities ... But, compared to the social conditions that create junkification, the conditions inside the maintenance program are more humane and more promising."

Cool word, that "junkification." It evokes images of grunge-rocker Courtney Love trashing a pricey hotel room.

I asked Robert Weiner, former White House drug policy spokesman, and now president of a Washington-based think tank specializing in drug policy -- what he thought of Cohen's statement, and the idea that heroin isn't harmful. He replied with, "You get to the point where the person is obviously an idiot. It doesn't pass any thinking person's common sense test."

Canadian Conservative Party Member of Parliament Stockwell Day used to be a pastor and counselor of troubled youth. He said of the free heroin giveaway, "In all the time we worked with heroin addicts, I never saw one case 'cured' by giving the patient more poison. Encouraging more people to live on heroin eventually means more people die on heroin."

And the people who would know best happen to agree. Billy Weselowski was a heroin addict for 20 years on Vancouver's "Skid Row" where the trials are being conducted and spent his share of time in penitentiaries. He took the hard road to recovery, started a licensed addiction recovery clinic that has 58 beds, recently finished his master's degree, and is beginning his doctorate.

Weselowski said: "Everyone has copped out to the degree of reducing a little bit of crime and a little bit of harm at the expense of human beings. They're just throwing these people away."

He added, "No one's going to be able to maintain (their addiction on the three prescribed hits per day) because you can't maintain heroin. You build a tolerance to it. Inside a few months, you'll need more of it to get the same sort of punch."

Weselowski also made a point that no one appears to have considered. He felt strongly that "someone's going to end up killing somebody (while on government heroin), and they're going to blame the government and use that as a legal defense. The addict has got a gun to the citizenry's head. It'll be, 'You created this. You put me in this position, and now you're going to pay for it.'"

Although the Vancouver project is being billed as a "trial," history suggests that it's likely more of a soft-launch for a permanent program than anything else, and about as much as a "pilot" as a movie trailer preview is for the associated feature film released a few months later.

According to Conservative Party Member of Parliament Randy White, whose constituency is located near Vancouver and who has worked extensively with addicts, "Ironically, when the first needle exchange came into Vancouver, people said 'this would prevent HIV and people will come in here and talk to us.'

"That didn't work at all. So they said that now we need an injection site ... That didn't do the job. Now they've got a heroin clinic, and fully intend to operate a heroin clinic after the results come in because those that are working in that field have a vested interest.

"I've had people in those kinds of facilities challenge my concerns because they were concerned that I would have their jobs taken away if the project failed ... (These measures) reflect a terrible lack of strategy, and (the heroin project) is an approach that basically says, 'We give up.'"

Meanwhile, as the Canadian government is funding heroin injections for junkies, diabetics can't afford needles, and addicts who want into treatment centers to get off heroin end up on a waiting list.

The "junkification" of Canada is certainly well underway, with projects like free heroin and the idea of decriminalizing marijuana taking the country one step closer to a culture war with the United States -- its largest trading partner.

As Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., a member of the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security, pointed out: "Canada has a right to pass whatever they do. But if you don't have harmonization of drug laws, and there is a disconnect, then we will have a right in the United States to re-evaluate our border strategy."

With one foot in a dumpster and the other on a banana peel, Canada is the doped-up, misdirected, know-it-all kid who thinks he's cool and 'progressive' but he clearly doesn't care about his future.


(Rachel Marsden is a political strategist, columnist and talk-show host who has worked in the United States and Canada.)


(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)