CHARLOTTETOWN. P.E.I. – Several weeks ago I wrote that Canada’s federal minister of health had announced that $100 million would be available to fight the opioid crisis.
In addition, it would now be easier for addicts in treatment centres to obtain heroin.
But, I argued there was no such easy access to heroin for terminal cancer patients in agony. I’ve received tons of mail from angry readers.
From E.D. “I watched my Father die a horrible death due to cancer. He lost all dignity, begged doctors for heroin, as morphine did not help. A vet of the Korean war should not have suffered this way.”
J.F., an English nurse, says, “When I came to Canada I couldn’t believe heroin was not available. I was told my patients might get addicted. I thought they were joking as these patients only had a few days to live. You are right, not all lunatics are in the asylum.”
Another nurse comments, “I trained in a psychiatric hospital where drug users were sent. Most addicts relapse and often tell you they just wanted a warm place for a few weeks. Safe injection sites are wrong and addicts should be sent to northern Canada to get over their addiction.”
From an ex-military man, “I’m appalled that self-inflicted wounds are rewarded and not punished. To add insult to injury I’m paying for it.”
D.S. replies, “Boy, did you hit the nail on the head! It blows my mind how the Minister of Health can spend millions on the opioid crisis when many cases are self-inflicted. I too am enraged that heroin is not available for cancer patients.”
From Sault Ste. Marie, ‘Thanks for having the balls to say what is so apparent to any sensible observer. The biggest crowd on Main Street is in front of the methadone clinic! Send them to boot camp for six weeks to cure their addiction!”
D. J., from Victoria B.C., replies, “Absolutely loved your column and wish our country had more outspoken doctors like you. It was criminal how my partner had to suffer when addicts are so babied and coddled. Please keep pounding away on these knuckle heads and the so-called political correct people.”
Another reader had this ironic comment, “Our medical system has gone mad giving free drugs to addicts. Programs such as AA are available to alcoholics. Hopefully we won’t make the same mistake and start giving free liquor to them!”
Some readers wrote it was the first time they had ever answered a column, but this one rang a bell. Others were so annoyed they said they would lock up these politicians and toss away the key.
A few readers thought I should have more empathy for addicts. Didn’t I realize that some doctors had over-prescribed these painkillers and bore much of the blame for the opioid epidemic? Others believed the solution could be solved by more treatment centres to fight the epidemic.
But, it was obvious from the volume of letters received that politicians were not in tune with the general mood of the nation on this issue. Taxpayers resented money being spent on addicts, when so much was needed in other health areas. Many sent congratulations for stirring the pot.
Other readers wished to send money so I could once again fight for the legalization of medical use of heroin for pain. But, 38 years ago several hundred thousand dollars were required from readers before heroin was finally legalized in 1984.
It was a tiring and hard-fought battle. It was followed by the frustration of seeing the use of heroin strangled by asinine bureaucratic red tape. It was a battle won and a war lost. I will never forgive those who fought me and lied about the benefit of heroin. I hope they, if suffering from pain one day, will understand the suffering they needlessly caused patients over the years.
So, my sincere thanks to those who offered financial help. Now it’s too onerous a task for me to attempt again. But I do admit that if I were younger I would fight this idiocy again.
Dr. W. Gifford-Jones is a syndicated columnist whose medical column appears in The Guardian every Tuesday. Check out his website, www.docgiff.com, which provides easy access to past columns and medical tips. For comments, readers are invited to email him at email@example.com. He can also be found on Twitter @GiffordJonesMD.