- The Washington Times - Monday, January 20, 2003

VANCOUVER, British Columbia, Jan. 20 (UPI) — The largest seizure of heroin in Canada's history had no impact on the amount of the drug on the street, indicating treatment and education could be more effective at controlling illegal drugs than law enforcement and interdiction, research released Monday shows.

In September 2000, police in Vancouver seized 220 pounds of heroin. The hope at the time was it would significantly reduce the amount of the drug available but "we found essentially no change whatsoever on the street," Martin Schechter, principal investigator of the study and head of epidemiology at the University of British Columbia, told United Press International.

Interviews with more than 260 heroin users found no difference in reports of daily use of heroin and the frequency of non-fatal overdose a month before and a month after the seizure, Schechter's team reports in Tuesday's issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

This indicates "the supply (of heroin) is so big even a major seizure doesn't make a dent," he said.

This also shows efforts focused on criminal justice and interdiction — as many countries use as the emphasis for their drug control policies — diverts resources "into a losing strategy that can't possibly resolve the problem," Schechter added.

The ineffectiveness of drug seizures at reducing availability of drugs on the street holds true for most other countries as well, he said.

"Wherever you look at this it's hard to see any effect of this approach on what is happening on the street," he said. "More resources ought to go into prevention and treatment … (including education and) intervention at the levels of determinants that make people get involved in drugs in the first place."

Treatment has been shown to be effective at getting addicts off heroin and it is "certainly far more effective than the current strategy we're following," he said.

In addition, drug addiction should be treated from a health perspective rather than a criminal perspective so addicts get treatment that can help them recover rather than simply being sent to prison, he said.

Canada's southern neighbor, the United States, also finds seizures to be an ineffective way of controlling heroin trafficking. Although increased border security following Sept. 11, 2001, has resulted in more seizures of heroin coming in from Colombia, the drug is "an increasing problem in some East Coast cities" such as Philadelphia and Baltimore, Will Glaspy, spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration, told UPI.

"Even if our seizures are up, (drug smugglers) are still getting some of the heroin to our markets," he said.

Several East Coast cities are "experiencing overdose deaths with heroin, some even in teenagers," Glaspy said. "A lot of people thought heroin went away … but it never really went away," he said.

The drug also is "getting to the street at a higher purity" which increases the likelihood of an overdose, Glaspy said. The higher purity also allows people to snort it rather than inject it, removing the stigma associated with using a needle, so some adolescents who would not otherwise use the drug now try it, he said.

Compounding the problem is the fact the drug is leaching out of the cities and "finding its way into more rural or suburban areas," he said.

DEA officials recently testified before Congress on their efforts to combat the problem in Colombia.

"We've increased our efforts there by creating a heroin group … that will be working with Colombian National Police specifically on heroin," he said.

The DEA primarily focuses on law enforcement actions but has started combining that with education and treatment, Glaspy said.

"We're working more with coalition groups to education the public on the dangers of drugs and combine that with enforcement," he said.

U.S. efforts in Colombia will do little to curtail heroin use in other parts of the world because the vast majority of the opiates — about 75 percent — originate in Afghanistan, Kemal Kurspahic, spokesman for the U.N. office on drugs and crime based in Vienna, told UPI.

"It is a huge problem and seizures of any sort without comprehensive drug control mechanisms" do little to curtail the supply of the drug, Kurspahic said. "Individual seizures are not the measure of success. It's good but the issue is much broader."

(Reported by Steve Mitchell, UPI Medical Correspondent, in Washington.)

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