Ask any expert in public health what the medical consensus is on treating addiction, and the term “harm reduction” is bound to come up at some point. Some substances have fatal or otherwise extremely harmful withdrawal effects, so you have to ween off them; others, injected drugs in particular, can be flashpoints for HIV contraction, so harm reduction can involve needle exchanges to move addicts away from HIV risks. Historically, Conservatives oppose these measures, characterizing them as enabling addiction. In reality, those public health officials whose concern is to end the addiction problem understand that many addicts would simply die under a “tough love” policy, which is not the sort of solution that passes any reasonable ethical criteria. So when Health Canada announced that it would provide prescription heroin to recovering addicts who have already built a resistance to methodone, the Conservative response was–as usual–contrary to all evidence that this is the solution for heavy addicts.
Of course, not all Canadians believe that treating addiction with heroin is a move in the right direction. Ambrose told GlobalNews.ca in 2013 that giving addicts heroin is “not to treat an underlying medical condition, but simply to allow them to continue to have access to heroin for their addiction even though other safe treatments for heroin addiction, such as methadone, are available.”According to Oviedo-Joekes, “methadone doesn’t work all the time for everybody. Methadone works very well as a first-line treatment.” Addiction, “like any other illness,” may require second-line or even third-line treatments.Prescribing heroin to severe addicts who don’t respond to other treatments may not cure them of their habit, according to Oviedo-Joekes and her colleagues, but it can lessen their exposure to life-threatening health risks, such as drug overdoses, blood-borne viral infections and endocarditis, an inflammation of the chambers of the heart. Studies indicate thatprescription heroin reduces illicit drug use and so decreases criminal activity and health care costs, so the greater societal toll is lessened.
That last bit there is one of the reasons I would think Conservatives–who claim to be tough on crime–would support this measure. Gangs often use drug dealing as an income stream, and nothing undermines their market quite like government grade drugs, which users can be confident aren’t laced with something unexpected.
Then again, Conservatives rarely care about the things they claim to care about unless they’re talking about taxes, so.