Canada's Opiate History Ends On Skid Road

By mopsie · Jun 3, 2006 · Updated Jun 5, 2006 · ·
  1. mopsie
    Pubdate: Wed, 31 May 2006
    Source: North Shore News (CN BC)

    TWO hundred years after opium gave birth to morphine, the misery and squalor of addiction to opiates and other illicit drugs is gathering momentum; aided and abetted by a host of self-accredited and self-serving 21st century hedonists and amoral technocrats advocating decriminalization.

    Some history may explain our sorry state.

    For more than 2,500 years the poppy, Papaver somniferum, has been valued for its sap, which in its dried state is opium. A stimulant narcotic poison, opium produces feelings of well being, hallucinations and drowsiness, and for centuries was used in countless medical potions as a cure for every real or imagined ailment, without any understanding of its active ingredient. Isolated in a soluble crystallized state in 1805, morphine was not widely used until 1853 when introduction of the hypodermic syringe enabled intravenous use. A quick fix bestowed powerful physiological and psychic effects dwarfing those of opium. Continued use produced overwhelming addiction; an overdose, the likelihood of death.

    In hospitals and on battlefields, pain-killing morphine is a God-given miracle. Non-medical indulgence, so-called recreational use, is a dropout's cop-out.

    In late-19th-century British society, morphine became a craze, craved by many upper-class matrons. It was fashionable, lawful to possess, offered nirvana at the price of addiction and guaranteed tragedy. Whatever morphine did in transporting its users to a world without pain, stress, time and mortality, opium's grandchild, heroin, could do more but with greater addiction. Heroin offered ultimate release from the straitjacket of reality without revealing to the thrill-seeker or daredevil that very few intravenous users ever escape life-threatening illness and disease that accompanies compulsive uncontrolled use. The coincident discovery of cocaine, an alkaloid of the coca plant, completed this tragic narcotic trilogy.

    Notwithstanding the absurdity of fervent romancing by a few writers and poets of divine insights and heightened intellect induced through smoking or eating opium, by the end of the 19th century drug addiction stood naked, offering only degradation, depravity and disrepute; highlighted by many morphine-addicted high-society matrons who victimized their families as they slid into suicidal self-indulgence.

    In the mid-19th century, to its everlasting dishonour, Britain engaged in two wars against China to force a continuation of a legalized opium trade - bringing about greater sales, ever-higher levels of addiction, and leper-like suffering to chronic users.

    Even so, at the dawning of the 20th century, Canadian society remained impervious to the counter-culture of drug addiction - with the exception of a few opium dens in Vancouver's Chinatown and the lawful processing of raw opium in Vancouver and Victoria for marketing in the eastern United States.

    Our tranquility ended in 1907 when racist white citizens, angered over a perceived flood of Chinese immigrants, rioted and destroyed much of Chinatown. In the aftermath, Chinese property owners, including two opium dealers, applied to Ottawa for compensation. The federal official investigating the riot was a young Mackenzie King. King was so concerned over the processing of opium in Canada that he persuaded the federal government to legislate Canada's first narcotic law, the Opium Act of 1908. In 1911, it became the Opium and other Drugs Act. At roughly the same time Britain and the United States criminalized possession and trafficking in opiates.

    In the first 50 years of the 20th century the dynamics of Canadian society were largely faith based - driven by moral and ethical commitment to individual principles and standards. Ordinary citizens understood the paramount importance of values in families and communities and how these things translated into cherished characteristics that gave rise to intense pride in saying "I am a Canadian." And all of this was forged in the adversity of two world wars and the Great Depression. We did not accept or encourage the ultimate self-indulgence of addiction to illicit drugs.

    In his Nov. 24, 2004, North Shore News column, Jerry Paradis wrote: ". . . we - citizens, police, judges - lived and worked within the orthodoxy that all drugs are inherently evil ( except, of course, alcohol ) and that prohibition and punishment can rid us of them . . . it is distressing to consider the evils we spawned in our hopeless attempt to impose criminal sanctions for private choices. . . .The inclination in humans . . . to seek out mind-altering substances is innate."

    A disposition, tendency, or propensity to use illicit drugs involves thought processes that reject moral and ethical considerations. To do the necessary preparation for intravenous injection; to search out a suitable vein; to insert a hypodermic syringe and complete the injection is an act of utmost selfishness and self-justification. It is a chosen course of action that cannot be exculpated by labelling it a private choice. It is inherently evil.

    I believe that decent hardworking Canadians would reject any government that ended criminalization of illicit drugs with a technocracy of "private choices."

    The 1952 Report on Criminal Offences in Canada cited 367 convictions under the Opium and Narcotic Drugs Act - 254 of them recorded in British Columbia, with 245 of the 254 occurring in Vancouver. The Vancouver Police Department estimated that between 1,500 and 2,000 addicts were in British Columbia, nearly all of them in Vancouver.

    On Dec. 5, 2004, Daphne Bramham reported in the Vancouver Sun: "The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse estimates there are 15,000 injection drug users in Vancouver. . . ." Skid Road Vancouver is their mecca - a hellhole that addicts control and rule by force and intimidation while they go about socializing, selling stolen property, and trafficking in illicit drugs. Addicts are a menace to residents and merchants of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and Chinatown.

    Since the 1960s, wave after wave of young people have been confronted with an array of drugs beyond heroin and cocaine, a smorgasbord with adult-pacifier marijuana at one end and hallucinatory LSD at the other. More recently, the party drug ecstasy, and addictive and dangerous amphetamines have been added to the menu.

    It seems indisputable that the dynamics of Canadian society changed in the '60s: We adapted to greater individual liberty and a healthy sub-culture of non-conformism, beset with a ride-along subset of parasitical drug addicts; an increasingly elitist and condescending judiciary constantly straying away from strictness and moral uprightness in the imposition of punishment; a penitentiary system philosophically opposed to making jail-time, hard time.

    Too many people today fail to appreciate the vitally important philosophical distinction between the concepts of freedom and licence. The former requires self-discipline ingrained with a sense of duty, whereas the latter translates into excessive liberty of action guided by egocentric disregard for law and propriety. Licentiousness is characterized by Edmund Burke's maxim "Intemperate mankind can never be free; for by their appetites they forge their fetters." Words that aptly describe drug addicts.

    In place of criminalization we are being pressured to accept a prescriptive regulatory system for the distribution of illicit drugs; a tightly controlled technocracy touted by the Health Officers Council of B.C., a registered society of "public health physicians."

    If legalization ever becomes a reality you can bet your bottom dollar it will blossom into full-blown bureaucratic absolutism opening the floodgates to unlimited substitution therapy with methadone and other synthetic narcotics, safe injection sites for every disorderly congregation of addicts, endless prescription trials of narcotics, and seamless epidemiological studies.

    The resulting ideological maelstrom will require large numbers of quasi-judicial officers, absolutist bureaucrats, topped off with academics pressing on with every manner of abstruse conclusions in attempting to prove addiction is a disease and that addicts are victims of themselves. And all the while these virtuosi will be spinning around in committees, conferences and public relations without any sense of the urgency to bring about withdrawal and abstinence by their essential laboratory addicts, dehumanized into virtual lab rats.

    I leave you with a glimpse into the point of view of British prison doctor Anthony Daniels, who writes under the pen name of Theodore Dalrymple. In his most recent book, Romancing Opiates - Pharmacological Lies and the Addiction Bureaucracy, he writes: "Contrary to our current pieties, therefore, which give those who subscribe to them a comfortable warm glow of generosity of spirit, but which are actually dehumanizing because they reduce addicts to the status of mere physiological specimens or preparations in a laboratory, addiction is a moral weakness par excellence."

    In my next column I intend to challenge the ongoing de facto solution to addiction being carried out by the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority. And I'll give you more of Dr. Daniels coupled with the opinions of a policeman who went beyond the call of duty in working his entire career on the skids in Vancouver.

    Share This Article


  1. Forthesevenlakes
    I'm sorry, but any article which ends with a quote from a 'prison doctor' (read: private enterprise whore) writing under a pseudonym (read: afraid of reprisal from medical community) condemning addicts as having a moral weakness par excellence (citing burke, refuted by countless philosophers since his own time) barely deserves to be paid heed by any person of intelligence. i feel like i'm reading the satirical liner notes of some bad late 1970's punk album.
To make a comment simply sign up and become a member!