BRAIN DAMAGE IN HEROIN USERS STUMPS B.C. PHYSICIANS
VANCOUVER - The medical health officer for this city can't explain why
so many people have died or suffered severe brain damage as a result
of smoking heroin.
In the first half of 2003, seven people here and other parts of
British Columbia died and 10 others were disabled as a result of
heroin-induced toxic leuko-encephalopathy, which damages the gait and
speech functions of the brain. Dr. John Blatherwick said only four
cases were identified in British Columbia for the whole of 2002,
resulting in two deaths.
"We don't have an explanation. Whenever I can't find the cause to be
the (heroin) they're using, it probably comes down to the individual
reaction these people have, but we don't know why."
Some suspect a practice among heroin users called "chasing the dragon"
may hold an important clue. Instead of injecting heroin, the addict
places the drug on tin foil, heats it and sniffs it through a small
But Dr. Blatherwick said it's not certain this explains the dramatic
rise in toxic leukoencephal-opathy among B.C. heroin users. He's also
"baffled" why the incidents of toxic leukoencephalopathy disappeared
after the first half of 2003.
"We didn't see anything in the latter half of the year, but that
doesn't follow any logical pattern."
Dr. Blatherwick stressed the incidents of toxic leukoencephalopathy
were not confined to Vancouver's drug-infested downtown east side, but
occurred as far away as the Okanagan Valley and the Fraser Health Authority.