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?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

So how much did the panelists who recommended giant raises for MLAs get paid?

Sean Holman has the answer at Look for the item headed "Reviewing the reviewers."

RCMP complaints process a travesty

As questions mounted about the death of Ian Bush, the RCMP repeatedly noted that the shooting would be investigated by the RCMP Commission for Public Complaints.
What they didn't say was that the top Mounties get to rewrite the commission's reports before they're made public.
And they routinely do, clearing officers accused of wrongdoing.
The Commission for Public Complaints issued 48 interim reports in its last fiscal year, which ended March 31.
The commission, after reviewing the evidence, issued 184 "findings." Half of them - 92 - were critical of the actions of the RCMP officers involved.
But the RCMP commissioner gets to go through the reports before they're released. During that 12-month period, the commissioners - first Giuliano Zaccardelli, then Beverley Busson - regularly rewrote reports. They decided witnesses judged credible by the commission should not be believed. They changed findings of fact and introduced new evidence.
And they over-ruled and rewrote 50 per cent of the commission's "adverse findings" against the actions of officers.
The situation is so outrageous it's like something out of a political satire. If something goes wrong - from a small complaint to a shooting - here's what happens. The RCMP investigates the actions of its officers. The investigators might forward a report to Crown prosecutors, who would use it to decide if charges are warranted.
If someone was unhappy with the results of this process, they could ask the RCMP Commission for Public Complaints to review the case. But the commission relies largely on the investigation by the RCMP.
And the top Mountie can and does rewrite the commission's reports to remove criticisms of officers or the force.
This has nothing to do with the general conduct of RCMP officers. Based on my limited experience as a police reporter - all right, very limited - they routinely do a tough job with remarkable good judgment.
But not always. Not invariably, 100 per cent of the time, like some saintly brigade. These are people like you and I, who chose a challenging line of work.
We give police officers great powers - from carrying guns to stopping people they suspect of wrongdoing. And most of us, I think, when we hear someone complain about being mistreated by police, tend to give the officer the benefit of the doubt. We've seen the kind of people they have to deal with, drunk and stupid and contrary.
That's exactly why there has to be accountability and independent oversight. When something does go wrong, a victim needs to know someone will look at his complaints with an open mind. Someone who isn't on the side of the police, or against them. Someone just interested in the truth and law.
Instead, complaints are investigated by RCMP officers. The information goes to the commission for public complaints. And then the head of the RCMP can rewrite any recommendations he doesn't like.
It's a deeply flawed process. The head of the RCMP has a natural desire to protect fellow officers. And too many bad reports might cost him his job.
The Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP is trying to improve things. It announced this month, in the aftermath of the Ian Bush shooting, a test program that will see its staff observe investigations into serious cases in B.C.
Commission chair Paul Kennedy says more is needed. The government has to pass legislation that allows real independent oversight. (Justice Dennis O'Connors investigation into the Arar case produced the same recommendation.)
The federal government's failure to deal with the issue is particularly unfair to British Columbians. The province has an independent Police Complaint Commissioner in charge of investigating public complaints.
But the RCMP won't accept the commissioner's oversight. Since most communities are policed by the RCMP, about 75 per cent of British Columbians don't have access to an adequate complaints process.
It's time the federal government acted on the urgent need to bring adequate oversight to the RCMP
Footonote: An independent review released earlier this year found significant problems in the provincial police complaints' review process. The report's author, former appeal court justice Josiah Wood, also advocates bringing the RCMP under the authority of the province's complaints commissioner.