How could this medical and social disaster ever be allowed to happen? If authorities had told me that Ontario, just one Canadian province, was treating 400 addicts in methadone clinics, I’d believe them. But, the actual number is 42,000. But how many of these addicts need methadone? And what is the solution for this madness?
Dr. Theodore Dalrymple is not an arm-chair commentator on addiction. Rather, he’s an internationally renowned expert, a British psychiatrist, and prison doctor who has treated thousands of addicts over years.
In his book, Romancing Opiates, he writes that heroin is not as highly addictive as claimed, and withdrawal not as difficult as treating an alcoholic. He claims, “It’s a myth that treating the heroin addiction 'cold turkey' causes withdrawal symptoms that are virtually unbearable.” He adds that, after witnessing withdrawal symptoms in thousands of patients, “they are hardly worse than the flu. Moreover, the sudden withdrawal of heroin is not dangerous.”
To prove his point Dalrymple reports that researchers examined the records of thousands of addicts between 1875 and 1968 who had been taken off heroin. They did not find a single death from withdrawal symptoms. Dalrymple makes another poignant observation. He has observed addicts laughing and having a great time in his waiting room. But once inside his consulting office they acted as if they’re “in extremis.” And when he points out this abrupt change in health, they have admitted they were “blagging.” He cites another experiment that shows how addiction is largely a myth. Morphine addicts, who believed they were being given morphine, but had only received water, reported their withdrawal symptoms had disappeared!
Dalrymple claims that the use of methadone has had a low success rate. The result is that addicts end up being treated indefinitely with medication at great cost to society. And he says doctors have a long history of treating trivial conditions dangerously with drugs such as methadone. This prison expert says there is nothing an addict likes more than to continue his personal way of life and place the weight of responsibility for his situation somewhere other than on his own decisions.
So Dalrymple contends that a useless medical bureaucracy has been established to deal with addicts. After all, why would doctors and staff want this merry-go-round to end when it’s become financially lucrative? In effect, he says, doctors and administrators need the addicts more than the addicts need them!
I couldn’t agree more that North America has followed an asinine approach to heroin addiction that’s causing major public health problems for this country. Years ago, I interviewed Singapore authorities about how they had attacked the illegal use of drugs. They accused North Americans of being “irresponsibly permissive.” This message was dispensed on my flight even before landing. A handout card to passengers read, “Death to drug dealers.”
Singapore authorities told me that the illegal use of heroin had been rampart in the country, and destroying young lives. Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew decided to stop this trend. He realized you should never show your teeth unless you’re prepared to bite. Criminals quickly got his message when drug dealers were hanged.
I recently read that Alberta has a rat patrol and has been rat-free for 65 years. The Albertan policy is to take no prisoners. What a shame North America doesn’t use the same approach for humans. I’m referring to human rats that pedal illegal drugs which trigger health problems, misery and crime at a huge cost to society.
Congratulations to Dr. Dalrymple his research. So I believe he would agree that the majority of addicts would be quickly cured by sending them to northern Canada to chop wood. They would be happy to return south without the methadone. As Aristotle remarked two thousand years ago, “punishment is a form of medicine.” I’m sure this column will be criticized by do-gooders that it’s a mortal sin to to deny methadone to addicts. But I believe health care dollars could be better utilized.
I appreciate hearing what you think and will report comments in a future column.
By Dr. W. Gifford-Jones - Edmonton Sun/June 4, 2016
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