GUELPH — Addicts in the Royal City face serious illness from crack cocaine cut with an increasingly common dog deworming substance, a Guelph drug harm reduction forum audience heard Friday.
Health educator Tracy Gibson of the Toronto-based Prisoners with AIDS Support Action Network said crack cocaine manufacturers are flooding the provincial capital with crack cut with the dewormer levamisole, causing addicts to suffer from severe rashes and a rotting away of their ears.
“It’s hit Guelph. It’s here,” responded audience member Karen Lomax, an outreach worker with the AIDS Committee of Guelph and Wellington County.
A late 2009 Associated Press story out of Little Rock, Ark. reported almost a third of cocaine seized in the U.S. “is laced with a dangerous veterinary medicine — a livestock deworming drug that might enhance cocaine’s effects but has been blamed in at least three deaths and scores of serious illnesses.” Those deaths were in the U.S. and Alberta.
Gibson said illicit manufacturers are “putting everything into crack cocaine to make a buck” because they know they have a captive audience. No matter how dangerous the additives, addicts are “lining up,” he said.
“I think it’s going to be a really big problem coming up,” Gibson, an audience member, told the second annual harm reduction forum organized by the Wellington Guelph Drug Strategy Committee and the local AIDS group.
Gibson said in an interview the rash doesn’t go away and there’s no effective treatment. “Once you’ve got this rash, you’ve got it. The more you smoke (crack), the worse it gets.”
He’s revolted unscrupulous people would add such a dangerous substance to cocaine.
“It makes my skin crawl.”
Lomax added in an interview she’s also appalled. “It’s scary,” she said. “It’s nasty.”
While people often assume drug use is a problem for youth, Homewood Health Centre outpatient social worker Chris Polito said senior citizens are also struggling with drug dependencies.
“It’s a big problem with seniors but it’s often not acknowledged or recognized,” she noted in an interview after a morning talk at the forum in the Guelph Youth Music Centre.
While alcohol remains the drug of choice, Polito said addiction to prescription drugs is also a big concern. Even more troubling is seniors combining the two, which can lead to medical emergencies, she said. Rates of recovery are high, but people have to become aware of senior addictions as a growing societal issue, Polito said.
Guelph MPP Liz Sandals, who sits on the provincial parliament’s select committee on mental health and addictions that’s gathering public input from across Ontario, said Health Minister Deb Matthews is expected to announce a new addictions strategy this spring.
“We heard a lot about addiction to prescription drugs being a problem,” Sandals said of her committee’s travels. “This is the drug that starts out legal and ends up causing endless pain.”
A key, she suggested, is improved methods of keeping tabs on the legitimate use of prescription drugs like OxyContin, the opiate pain killer readily available on city streets.
Forum keynote speaker Carol Strike said prevention methods have not stopped people from developing drug dependencies and half the countries in the world have tried harm reduction strategies. They include Canada, through programs like needle exchanges, glass crack smoking kits, injection sites, treatment and counselling. Ontario has 32 needle exchange programs at more than 100 sites, she said. They include Guelph.
“Treatment is not universally available. It does work for some people; it doesn’t work for all,” said Strike, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health.
“You might want to see harm reduction as a safety net,” Strike said. There’s no evidence needle exchange, glass kits and injection sites encourage new drug use or its duration and frequency, she added.
Substitutions like methadone maintenance and prescription heroin for chronic addicts have proven beneficial over time, helping people lead more normal lives while lowering the risk of infection, Strike continued.
Dr. Nathan Frank, general manager for methadone clinics in Guelph and Kitchener, said most patients on methadone are, contrary to popular opinion, not heroin addicts but people addicted to opiates like OxyContin.
But Penny Rogers, a Cambridge-based AIDS Committee volunteer, warned heroin is making a comeback on the streets of Kitchener.
It’s also increasingly available in Guelph, Lomax interjected, noting the street price has dropped to $25 from $35 for “a point,” a reference to a standard single dose.
“I believe heroin’s going to make a big comeback,” Lomax said.
If that’s the case and the price of heroin continues to fall “methadone is still the treatment of choice,” for chronic users, Dr. Frank responded. He added the Guelph clinic has a waiting list and he’s trying “to get another doctor to join us.”
Vik Kirsch, Mercury staff
Sat Mar 12 2011
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