BC group wants regulated heroin to be sold to drug users to curb overdoses

Feb 21 2019, 8:08 pm

A report released today by the BC Centre for Substance Use (BCCSU) is calling on the province to implement heroin compassion clubs in order to reduce the number of fentanyl-related deaths and impacts of global organized crime.

“Closely regulated heroin compassion clubs could drastically cut fentanyl overdose deaths attributable to organized crime’s grip on the illicit heroin market,” said the BCCSU in a release. 

The report, titled Heroin Compassion Clubs: A Cooperative Model to Reduce Opioid Overdose Deaths & Disrupt Organized Crime’s Role in Fentanyl, Money Laundering & Housing Unaffordability, was written by a team of medical and public health researchers.

The report states that while addiction treatment and harm reduction interventions are a “critical component” to the public response to substance use and addiction, “these interventions do not address the structural factors that have given rise to the poisoning of the drug supply (e.g., organized crime profit motives) and related public health and safety concerns.”

“Similarly, harm reduction, addiction treatment and recovery services, even when sufficiently brought to scale, will have limited impact on addressing direct unintended effects of drug prohibition that are driven by organized crime profits in the illegal market.”

The BCCSU highlights several harms of heroin prohibition, including:

  • More violence, crime, diseases, corruption and death than would occur with a public health-oriented regulated system
  • Institutionalized and endemic organized crime, illegal markets, corruption, criminal organizations that produce crime, violent injuries and deaths
  • Undermining of public health systems when criminalization and enforcement activities drive people who use drugs away from prevention and care services and into environments where the risk of harms (e.g. overdose) is increased

The BCCSU proposes the heroin compassion clubs would be modelled after the cannabis compassion clubs and buys clubs that emerged in the 1980s and 1990s in response to the AIDS epidemic.

The heroin compassion clubs would function as a co-op that would provide members access to legal and pharmaceutical-grade heroin.

“Evidence clearly demonstrates that supply-reduction strategies — which aim to reduce heroin availability and, in turn, drive drug prices up to ultimately decrease demand — have failed,” states the report.

The BCCSU says that the heroin compassion club model will:

  • Provide a much safer alternative to the fentanyl-adulterated illicit heroin market that is the key driver of opioid deaths by providing a standardized known dosage
  • Undermine the tremendous profits flowing to organized crime groups that are flooding the local real estate market, contributing to housing unaffordability in the province
  • Provide facilitated access to public health, free addiction treatment, and referral to recovery services through co-location with the proposed compassion clubs
  • Allow for revenue generated through a purchasing cooperative model to be redirected in-house to provide access and supports for those without financial means
  • Prevent opioid addiction by seeking to limit heroin access to individuals using fentanyl

The BCCSU says that nearly 1,500 fatal overdoses occurred each year in 2017 and 2018, largely as a result of the fentanyl contamination.

“As a result, for the first time in the province’s history, average life expectancy is dropping.”

The full report can be read here.