Friday, July 27, 2007

Maybe Hillbilly Heroin is a good thing

Apparently prescription drugs are bumping heroin off some addicts' shopping lists in Victoria these days.
Which seems like a good thing, one that points to a solution to at least some of the drug problems causing our communities so much grief. The Times Colonist reported "the evolution of drug use in Victoria" is under way. Dealers are shifting from heroin to prescription drugs that have similar effects - Dilaudid, OxyContin and morphine variants. OxyContin has kind of a buzz going. It's apparently swept through small-town and rural America and made inroads in Atlantic Canada. The prescription drug even has a media handle - "hillbilly heroin." (Of course, we in the media don't have a good record in reporting on drugs; we tend to get overly excited about each new drug that comes along.)
The article suggested the shift marked a "troublesome trend" in drug use. I can't see much troublesome about the change. Being addicted - to prescription drugs, heroin, cocaine or alcohol - is terrible.
And some substances are worse than others. Cocaine addicts seem particularly likely to have a tough ride; alcoholics have the benefit of easy access and a certain social tolerance. But any addiction is bad news. Still, oxycontin or heroin - what's the difference? Some argue prescription heroin substitutes might add to addiction problems if they're more readily available than heroin. Getting phony prescriptions and reselling the drugs might be easier than importing heroin, they suggest. But there never seems to be any problem meeting the demand for heroin. The biggest busts and record-breaking seizures make absolutely no difference in supply.
Basically, it seems that the new street drugs are appealing because they're a safe, cost-effective alternative to heroin. How is that a bad thing?
When people buy heroin, or cocaine or meth, they can't tell what they're getting.
When they buy a prescription drug, they often can check the tablet or capsule before they grind it up. The drug has been made in a pharmaceutical company's manufacturing centre, not some basement. That means addicts have a reduced risk of taking bad drugs and dying, or ending up in hospital. Surely that's a good thing.
The cost of feeding a prescription drug addiction is about the same as being on heroin. Markets work that way. If prescription drugs give the same effects as heroin, then they'll command pretty much the same price. But the article raised an interesting possibility. On the street, it said, the prescription pills sell for $5 to $20 each. An addict would typically use $40 or $50 worth at a time, based on street prices. Consider the process involved. Someone persuades a doctor he has terrible pain and gets a prescription for a morphine-like drug. He sells the pills to a dealer, who sets out to resell them on the street. A buyer - an addict - would need $40 to make the buy. If he's doing crimes to support his habit, that means perhaps three cars broken into to get stuff to sell.
Which would, of course, cost each of the owners $500 for a new lock or window. So the addict gets drugs. Dealers and gangs make money supplying them. Property crimes soar. Police are kept busy.
Instead, why not write the addict a prescription, and even provide free drugs? The real price for the bills, prescribed, is $8, not $40. Providing the drugs deals a big blow to the criminals making profits in the drug trade. The addict wouldn't break into those three cars. Perhaps, given freedom from the daily scramble for drug money, he might even begin to get a grip. It's worked that way in other jurisdictions. Switzerland conducted an experiment in which 1,100 addicts received free heroin. During the test there was a massive reduction in criminal activity by the drug users and an increase in employment and not one overdose death.
And more than 80 people quit drugs while using legal heroin. So why aren't we just writing prescriptions for at least some addicts?
Footnote: There are practical issues. Drugs shouldn't be too readily available, as difficulty deters at least some new users. But making life difficult for addicts serves no purpose. Their lives are worse, the entire community suffers through crime, policing costs, health care pressures and our sense of safety is eroded. What is the point?


Anonymous said...

OMG... PW is a heretic!

Good luck ever getting into the US again Paul ;)

Anonymous said...

What you are writing makes sense but the politicians wouldn't have the guts to arrange for it to happen. sort of along the line of prostitution. Evil is the word they use a lot. The arguments over methadone keep popping up. so property crise goes up and a lopt of police hours are spent chasing a addict who can't do without the stuff. My God our Prime Minister is against needel exchange programs and safe injection sites. If such a arraangement was set up the folks in power would have kittens

Anonymous said...

Another consideration not noted above. Every pill taken is one less needle being used/reused to inject heroin. This reduces the risk of disease due to sharing of needles or reuse of dirty needles and also reduces risks to innocents who might accidently come in contact with a discarded needle. As someone who is in no way involved in the illegal drug trade but works in areas where needles are routinely discarded, a reduction in the number of potentially life-destroying needles hiding in the deep grass would make me a happier person.

Anonymous said...

Way to put that all in perspective Paul,, Oxy are getting out of control as far as what dealers are trying to fetch on the street,,its cheaper to drink,,much cheaper and a helluva alot easier to get ahold of alcohol than it is for these street pills that are up to $30 for one pill and some people are injesting up to 8-10 a the math on that one EH....just legalize it and that way the feds can get there grimey hands on more tax $$$,and yes the needles could be a thing of the past along w/the diseases......

Gazetteer said...

Nice piece Mr. W.

And a whole lot of W's packed in there as well.

There is, however, one W that you didn't write about here that should get a whole story, if not a series, all on its own.

And this is why.

As in, 'Why aren't we doing this?*'

*see: U.S. DoJ/science jamming....


triedititsgood said...

It wouldn't reduce needle use. You can shoot some pills likey Oxycontin. Also an user wouldn't give up the rush of shooting for the less intense snorting or swallowing of the pill.