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    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.


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