Overdoses

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UK Drug Deaths on the Rise, Despite Government Pledge

Location: 
United Kingdom
Publication/Source: 
The Independent
URL: 
http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/this_britain/article1222808.ece

Surge in Heroin Deaths Leads Families of Victims to Speak Out

Location: 
St. Louis, MO
United States
Publication/Source: 
KSDK News Channel 5
URL: 
http://www.ksdk.com/news/news_article.aspx?storyid=102639

Harm Reduction: Boston About to Move to Supply Addicts with Heroin Antidote

Boston public health authorities will likely approve a trial program providing heroin users with naloxone (brand name Narcan) next week, the Boston Globe reported Wednesday. If the Boston Public Health Commission indeed approves the program, it will join cities such as Baltimore, Chicago, and New York where authorities have already approved its distribution to drug users.

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In many locales, only paramedics or hospital emergency rooms administer the drug, which can stop a heroin overdose from turning into an overdose death. But with Boston facing a high number of heroin overdose deaths -- fatal overdoses increased 50% between 1999 and 2003 -- city health officials want to put the drug where it can do the most good most quickly: in the hands of drug users.

"The number one hope with this is to save lives," Public Health Commission executive director Joel Auerbach told the Globe. "Our paramedics have said it's a miracle drug. They've seen people who are comatose who are then revived and perfectly fine."

The trial run is expected to enroll 100 heroin users, who would have to undergo training and evaluation, as well as listen to encouragements to quit. But if they were not prepared to stop using, they would be instructed in how to administer Narcan. Then they would be given a prescription for two doses.

The proposed move comes just a week after the Office of National Drug Control Policy -- the drug czar's office -- rejected the idea as somehow encouraging drug use. "We don't want to send the message out that there is a safe way to use heroin," ONDCP spokesperson Jennifer DeVallance told the AP.

Program to Supply Addicts With Heroin Antidote Proposed

Location: 
Boston, MA
United States
Publication/Source: 
Boston Globe
URL: 
http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2006/08/09/program_to_supply_addicts_with_heroin_antidote_proposed/

Editorial: Sometimes They Tell the Truth

David Borden, Executive Director

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David Borden
It's alternately refreshing or appalling to hear public officials who deal with drug policy occasionally tell the truth about it. This week reformers got to bring home some of both.

The refreshing truth-telling came from Great Britain, where a Parliamentary Committee harshly tore into the official drug classification scheme used in the Misuse of Drugs Act, and the agency that is responsible for maintaining it. Many of the rankings seemed to have resulted from "knee-jerk responses to media storms," the committee charged, with no consistency and "no solid evidence to back-up the view that classification had a deterrent effect." "The current classification system is riddled with anomalies and clearly not fit for its purpose," the chairman said. "From what we have seen, the Home Office and ACMD approach to classification seems to have been based on ad hockery and conservatism." (See two articles below in this issue to read all about it.)

Gotta like that! But now for one that I don't like -- not at all. In Philadelphia, one of the cities suffering under the crisis of fentanyl-laced heroin and the resulting wave of often fatal overdoses, the harm reduction program Prevention Point Philadelphia, partnering with a local physician, has begun to help distribute naloxone, a medication that if used soon enough during an overdose can save the victim's life.

Naloxone distribution is a type of program known as "harm reduction," the idea of which is that since we know some people are going to use drugs regardless of how we fight them, there are things that can be done to help them save their lives and the lives of others -- even before they stop using drugs, for that matter even if they never stop using drugs. Needle exchange programs are another example of harm reduction at work.

The drug czar's office reacted to the PPP venture with criticism. If heroin users have a chance of surviving an overdose, the reasoning went, it is "disinhibiting" to the objective of getting addicts to just stop using the stuff. "We don't want to send the message out that there is a safe way to use heroin," an ONDCP spokesperson said. But "dead addicts don't recover," as the common mantra in the harm reduction field goes.

While the drug czar's position is dead wrong about this -- deadly wrong, in fact -- the comment seems a fairly truthful explanation of the horrible way that many drug warriors think. It is a direct corollary of the spokesperson's comment that it is better to have people who could be saved instead die, in order to dissuade others from using drugs -- better to make sure that drugs kill -- so that everyone will be sure that drugs do kill. But the dead from overdoses are definitely (and permanently) dead, whereas those who, through the withholding of livesaving assistance to some, are thereby saved from death through their own choices, may or may not exist.

Those who oppose harm reduction are in effect supporting "harm intensification" instead -- a deliberate attempt through policy to increase the dangers of drugs -- at a cost of lives, and in my view of morality too.

But that is what prohibition is truly about, harm intensification on a global scale. Hence the need for legalization instead -- so morally defunct ideas like those expressed this week by the drug czar's office can be laid to rest and their ghastly consequences finally be made to cease.

Harm Reduction: Drug Czar's Office Opposes Letting Heroin Users Have Easy Access to Overdose Antidote

When heroin users around Philadelphia started overdosing on junk laced with fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opiate, a local harm reduction group began working with a sympathetic physician to provide addicts prescriptions to naloxone (brand name Narcan). The Office of National Drug Control Policy thinks that's a bad idea.

In many cities, paramedics carry Narcan with them, but by the time they arrive on the scene, it can be too late, explained Casey Cook, executive director of Prevention Point Philadelphia, the group that runs the city's needle exchange program. "If people have to rely on paramedics, more often than not, the overdose is going to be fatal, just because of the amount of time for people to get there," she told the Associated Press in an interview last Friday.

But the drug czar's office is worried that providing addicts with the means to survive an overdose would prove "disinhibiting," much the same way social conservatives argue that providing teenagers with condoms to prevent pregnancy and disease "disinhibits" them from remaining abstinent. ONDCP doesn't want to appear to condone drug use. "We don't want to send the message out that there is a safe way to use heroin," said Jennifer DeVallance, an ONDCP spokesperson told the AP.

There were some 16,000 drug-related deaths reported in 2002, the vast majority of them involving either heroin or prescription opiates, and at least 400 people have died in the wave of fentanyl-related heroin ODs in the past few months. Better they should die than people think heroin is safe, huh?

Prosecutor Says Dangerous Heroin Now in Cape May County (New Jersey)

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
Press of Atlantic City
URL: 
http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com/news/local/capemay/story/6583660p-6430459c.html

Mayor Seeks Drug Maintenance for Drug Addicts

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
Vancouver Sun
URL: 
http://www.canada.com/vancouversun/news/story.html?id=bf184ac0-01c2-4251-8c46-24cbb64be30f

The Heroin Overdose Wave Continues...

WFMZ-TV in Allentown, Pennsylvania, has reported another overdose from the fentanyl-laced heroin batch that is ravaging drug injecting communities in cities around the nation. Meanwhile, officials in South Jersey are trying to figure out what is causing the rash of overdoses in Vineland and are wondering if something may be contaminating the heroin supply there -- five people had to be rushed to the South Jersey Healthcare Regional Medical Center on Tuesday, according to The Press of Atlantic City. We need legalization! Heroin use can't be stopped, at least not in this way -- only a legal, regulated supply will allow for any reliable degree of control over the drug supply -- until prohibition is ended, drug users will always be at risk of this kind of often fatal harm, especially the addicted ones. It is indecent that we are subjecting these people to this kind of situation -- and it certainly means longer emergency room waits when the rest of us need the help. WMFZ-TV accepts comments here. The Press has information on submitting a letter to the editor, or a longer guest column, online here. Also click here to take action to support of a bill sponsored by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) to fund overdose prevention. And click here for a Drug War Chronicle report on the heroin/fentanyl overdose outbreak.
Location: 
Atlantic City, NJ
United States

Editorial: Do We Really Want to Help Kids Find the Drug Dealers?

David Borden, Executive Director

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David Borden's usual Thursday evening editing session
One of this week's drug war news items is a legislative effort in the state of Maine to create a committee to study the possibility of a registry, accessible to the general public, of people who have been convicted repeatedly of drug offenses. Supporters have portrayed the idea as a way to help families protect their children from people in Maine who may want to provide drugs to them.

Even using drug war logic (generally a bad idea), this idea fails pretty decisively. Most kids don't start using drugs because they are offered them by professional dealers. Most kids start using drugs because they are offered them by other kids -- kids who are providing either for social reasons or because they have gotten involved in the criminal enterprise, but in either case not the repeatedly convicted adults who would pop up on the state's web site. It's also important to remember that most drug dealers never get caught, hence will never appear in the registry for that reason.

So while a registry would enable parents to be aware of some fraction of the serious drug dealers out there, it will miss (and perhaps divert attention from) the more common pathways through which drugs might get into the hands of their children. Furthermore, the same unstoppable economic process that turns any bust of a dealer into a job opportunity for new dealers, must also apply, at least partly, to any repeat dealers who lose business because some parents were able to keep their children clear of any given dealer -- if the kids are determined or even just willing, they'll wind up getting their drugs from someone else.

Most glaring, however, is an argument that was pointed out in a "practice" blog post by a member of our staff, Scott Morgan, on our soon-to-be-released new web site. Scott used a similar registry in Tennessee, limited to methamphetamine offenders, to show how usable it would be (perhaps is) to any young people, in any given county in the state, wishing to find leads on people in their county who might be able to sell them meth or other drugs -- an outcome exactly the opposite of what the registry purports to want to prevent.

The main difference (no pun intended) between Tennessee's registry and Maine's proposed registry, other than Maine's including all illegal drugs, is that Maine's is to be limited to "habitual" drug offenders, people who have been convicted of drug dealing multiple times. But repeat offenders are exactly the people who are the most likely to offend yet again -- the most usable listings for kids or others wanting to locate drug sellers conveniently narrowed down. But widening the registry to include all drug offenders won't help either -- because increasing the number of listings would also increase the registry's usability to kids wanting to find dealers. Either way you can't get around the idea that a drug offender registry is effectively a taxpayer-subsidized advertising campaign supporting drug dealing.

In the end, we must return to the issue that the primary way young people start to get involved in drug use is through the influence of other kids -- in many instances buying the drugs from other kids, in the schools. This is one of the factors that has led to an increased prevalence of handguns in schools -- where the underground market goes, so also tend to go weapons.

But it need not be that way. While use of alcohol by minors is a big issue (alcohol is just as much of a drug as any of the others, and a rather destructive one), at least kids are not buying it from other kids, in the school, from people who carry guns. That situation exists with the illegal drugs precisely because we have banned them. With drug legalization, the criminal problems associated with the trade in drugs would largely vanish -- no more armed drug trade in the schools, no more turf wars or open air markets.

And while the harm from the use of the drugs themselves will not simply disappear when prohibition is ended, the sheer level of destructiveness currently associated with addiction in particular would also drop substantially, as users would no longer be subject to the random impurities, and fluctuations in purity, that currently lead to poisonings and overdoses; and the high street prices drugs currently have would also drop, enabling many if not most addicts who are now driven to extreme behaviors like theft and prostitution to get the money to buy drugs to at least afford the habit through legal means of earning. Escalating the failed policy of prohibition won't accomplish this.

In the meanwhile let's at least cool it with these hare-brained ideas like drug offender registries. The continued stigmatization of people who have already been punished ought to be enough reason. But if it's not, the incredibly poor logic behind this idea ought to be. Do we really want to help kids find the drug dealers? I don't.

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