Newsbrief: Canadian Heroin Bust Study Finds Drug War Futile 1/24/03

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Back in 1999, police in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside made one of the largest heroin busts in Canadian history, seizing more than 100 kilograms from Southeast Asian traffickers. Police at the time said the bust would have a major impact on the local and even the North American heroin scene. "When you start dealing with heroin at the multi-multi-kilogram level, you are dealing with the top echelon of heroin movement throughout the world," Royal Canadian Mounted Police Sgt. Patrick Convey told Reuters when the bust was announced.

But according to a group of researchers whose findings were published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, the 1999 heroin bust -- nearly the same amount as seized all along the US-Mexico border the following year -- "appeared to have no measurable public health benefit." Local heroin prices actually declined, the researchers found, while unchanged heroin overdose rates and levels of purity showed that "the seizure had no impact." Consequently, the study politely suggested that "closer scrutiny of enforcement efforts is warranted to ensure that resources are delivered to the most efficient and cost-effective public health programs."

Senior author Martin Schecter, head of the Department of Health Care and Epidemiology at the University of British Columbia, was less diplomatic when talking about his results to the National Post on Tuesday. "If you look at all the harms associated with drug use, you need to ask, 'Is the harm caused by the drugs or by the war on drugs?' As a drug, heroin gives you a euphoric reaction and is highly addictive," he said. "You can say that, but if you look at the other problems -- HIV, Hepatitis C, bacterial infections of the heart -- all of those things are caused by dirty needles because the activity is confined to alleys. The violence is caused by money. Corruption and crime aren't a function of the drug, they're a function of the war on drugs," Schecter concluded.

The authors, who also run the Vancouver Injection Drug User Study, used members of that study to gauge the impact of law enforcement in general and the 1999 heroin bust in particular on regular drug users. They criticized Canadian drug enforcement spending priorities, noting that 95% of the $500 million Canada spends annually on its drug strategy goes to law enforcement. "It's unfortunate that the government wants to spend money that way, said coauthor Evan Wood, a researcher at the BC Center for Excellence in HIV/AIDS. "Our study shows there is no evidence these methods are effective. Any economist will tell you that you can't control a market from the supply side. You have to control it from the demand side."

Visit to read the Canadian Medical Association Journal article online.

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Issue #273, 1/24/03 The Road to Mérida: Interviews with Participants in the "Out from the Shadows" Campaign | DRCNet Interview: Gustavo de Greiff, Former Attorney General of Colombia | DRCNet Interview: Luis Gómez, Andean Bureau Chief for Narco News | DRCNet Interview: Ricardo Sala, (Live With Drugs), Mexico | Mérida Addendum: Missing Paragraphs from Last Week's Giordano Interview | Rosenthal Medical Marijuana Trial Underway -- Medical Marijuana Supporters Stage Demos, Start Billboard Campaign | Bolivia: As Strife Continues, Armed Rebels Emerge -- Or Do They? | Latin American Anti-Prohibition Conference, February 12-15, Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico | Cumbre Internacional sobre Legalización, 15-Dec Febrero, Mérida, México | Cúpula Internacional sobre Legalização, 15-Dec de Fevereiro, Mérida, México | Newsbrief: Maryland Governor to Support Medical Marijuana | Newsbrief: Southeast Asians to End Drugs | Newsbrief: This Week's Corrupt Cops Story | Newsbrief: Canadian Heroin Bust Study Finds Drug War Futile | Newsbrief: Peruvian Coca Growers Begin to Organize | Newsbrief: Mexico Disbands Anti-Drug Agency, Cites Corruption | DC Job Opportunity at DRCNet -- Campus Coordinator | The Reformer's Calendar

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