Overdose Prevention

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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.

Editorial: Sometimes They Tell the Truth

David Borden, Executive Director

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/borden12.jpg
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

Opiate Painkiller ODs Now Top Those for Cocaine, Heroin

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
Forbes
URL: 
http://www.forbes.com/forbeslife/health/feeds/hscout/2006/07/24/hscout533964.html

Police: Maryland Has Tainted Heroin

Location: 
United States
Publication/Source: 
Associated Press
URL: 
http://www.wjla.com/news/stories/0706/345220.html

Australian MP Says Raves Safer Than Hotel Bars, Urges Pill Testing Programs

Location: 
United States
URL: 
http://www.theadvertiser.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,5936,19698296%255E910,00.html

Canada: In Harm Reduction Bid, Vancouver Police to Stay Away From Overdose Calls

In a bid to reduce drug overdose deaths, police in Vancouver will no longer show up along with paramedics at drug overdose calls. That has already been unofficial practice for the past two years, but at a June 14 meeting, the Vancouver Police board voted to make it part of the department's official policy.

Citing Australian research that showed a police presence actually increased the likelihood of overdose deaths, Vancouver police suggested that if drug users do not fear arrest, they will be less reluctant to contact authorities in the event of an overdose, and in December 2003 began staying away from ODs. After a series of consultation with community groups, including the drug user group Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), the practice became established, if informal, policy by the end of the following year.

"Research presented at a Heroin Overdose Prevention Conference in Seattle in 2000 revealed that despite the fact that half of overdose cases are witnessed by another person, the greatest barrier in obtaining emergency medical help was the fear that police would attend and lay charges for drug use," wrote Vancouver Police Inspector Ken Frail at the time. "Rather than face police intervention, many witnesses to a drug overdose would respond in an inappropriate way. Sometimes a victim would be dropped in a public place hoping they would be found, sometimes an incomplete phone call would be made and the caller would leave before medical help arrived. Sometimes the overdose victim would be abandoned," he noted.

"Vancouver Police recognize that drug overdose cases are primarily medical emergencies requiring rapid response," Frail explained. "The new policy tends to restrict police attendance at overdose calls except in cases where public safety requires police attendance. The police role at a drug overdose call is clarified as 'assisting with life saving measures and public safety.'"

It worked for Vancouver in 2004 and 2005, and now the Police Board has made it official policy. It is a harm reduction measure American cities would do well to consider emulating.

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