Dr. W. Gifford-Jones: Rights of addicts, and rights of cancer patients
Should the injection site for addicts in Vancouver be closed? Proponents argue that one million injections in Vancouver have saved lives and decreased the risk of HIV infection. Others contend injection sites send the wrong message and should be closed. But in this heated debate, why don’t both sides and the Canadian government attack the root cause of this cancerous problem.
First, how sick are these heroin addicts? I’ve no idea, as I’ve never treated addicts. But Dr. Theodore Dalrymple, a British prison doctor and psychiatrist, has treated addicts for years. In his book “Romancing Opiates,” he writes that heroin is not as highly addictive as is claimed and withdrawal is not medically serious. He contends that a useless medical bureaucracy has been established to deal with addicts.
Dalrymple has observed addicts laughing in his waiting room. But once inside his consultation room they appear to be “in extremis.” And when taken to task for this change of demeanor they admit they were “blagging.”
What Dalrymple says makes some sense. I have seen cancer patients in London, England, being prescribed huge doses of heroin for pain. They could be weaned off these massive doses in a few weeks once their pain subsided. But let’s assume Dalrymple is wrong and addicts need continued help.
Those in favor of the Vancouver site argue that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees treatment for addicts. I’m not a legal expert. But surely, if addicts have this right, what about other patients?
Today, many rights are not be being addressed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Years ago this columnist fought for the legalization of heroin to ease the suffering of terminal cancer patients. I was labeled “a headline seeking journalist” and criticized by The Cancer Society, the RCMP and hospital pharmacists who claimed morphine is just as effective. This is a lie and hypocrisy at its worst.
It’s ludicrous that year after year thousands of people still see loved ones dying in agony from cancer without the benefit of heroin as a painkiller. Yet for heroin addicts, it is imported and readily available in Vancouver. There’s something terribly wrong with this discrepancy.
Contacts tell me that many residents of half-way houses routinely spend their monthly government checks on crack cocaine. Some also become pregnant and deliver children with brain damage from drugs that cannot be repaired. Surely the Charter of Rights and Freedoms should also protect children from this life-long misfortune.
What about those who through no fault of their own suffer from debilitating arthritis or Crohn’s disease, an inflammation of the bowel? Both require drugs that cost thousands of dollars to decrease the risk of recurrence. Yet all too often patients cannot afford the cost.
Now there’s talk that Toronto intends to study the feasibility of a safe injection site for heroin addicts. But another safe site will not solve the medical, social and economic problems resulting from the use of illegal drugs.
Lee Kuan Yew, former prime minister of Singapore, knew the answer to this cancerous problem. He saw his country being torn apart by the heroin trade and decided that stringent measures were required to stop it. I received his blunt, clear message on a plane before landing in Singapore. A card, government issued, was handed to me that read, “Death for drug traffickers under Singapore law.” This greeting gets your attention.
Lee Kaun Yew also knew that if you show your teeth you must be prepared to bite. If not, the law is ineffective. And since 1991 it’s reported that 420 people have been executed, mostly due to drug trafficking.
I’m sure many people find this law repulsive. But if we were not required to spend so much money on addicts and crime associated with illegal drugs, patients with other diseases could be protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. What do you think?
The hypocrisy surrounding the medical use of heroin is depicted in my memoir, “You’re Going To Do What?” It can be purchased by sending $19.95 to ECW Press, 2120 Queen Street East, Suite 200, Toronto, Ontario, M4E 1E2
See the Web site www.mydoctor.ca/gifford-jones.
Dr. W. Gifford-Jones is actually Dr. Ken Walker, a practicing physician in Toronto who writes many columns at his Bristol Harbour, N.Y. residence.