News Briefs

Canada approves heroin legislation

The Canadian National Department of Health has recently passed regulations that would allow doctors to prescribe heroin as a means of treating patients who are severely addicted to the drug and unresponsive to con­ventional treatments.

The so-called heroin maintenance pro­gram stipulates that patients are permitted to schedule appointments over three times a day at select clinics to receive injections of diacetylmorphine, a form of pharmaceu­tical-grade heroin, from a certified nurse. By sanctioning these programs, which are mod­eled after similar programs currently oper­ating in European countries, the government hopes to curb the mounting death toll caused by the growing epidemic of opioid addiction.

The new regulations, however, are not en­tirely novel, for they merely reinstate laws that were repealed not too long ago. In Oct. 2013, then-Health Minister Rona Ambrose removed prescription heroin from the Special Access Program, thereby making it inaccessible to doctors. In the ensuing years, research efforts such as the North American Opiate Medical Initiative (NAOMI), an “experimental drug tri­al evaluating the feasibility and effectiveness of heroin-assisted treatment in a Canadian context,” lent credibility to the potential value of these programs (CNN, “Prescription heroin gets green light in Canada,” 09.14.16).

With research conducted in multiple coun­tries suggesting the efficacy of heroin-main­tenance programs, the previous regulations were reauthorized upon the condition that they be rewritten to clarify that requests for diacetylmorphine would only be accepted for specialized cases involving “long-term users for whom standard treatments like methadone and detox have failed after repeated attempts” (Washington Post, “Canada has just approved prescription heroin,” 09.13.16).

The regulations have been met with back­lash from more Conservative Canadians. Colin Carrie, a Conservative member of Parliament and the party spokesperson for health policy, asserted, “Our [party’s] policy is to take her­oin out of the hands of addicts and not put it in their arms” (Vox, “Canada’s evidence-based plan to help fight heroin addiction: legalize prescription heroin”).

In response to critics, the majority Liberal government expressed its continued support for the programs. The amended Controlled Drugs and Substances document now reads, “A number of countries have allowed doctors to use diacetylmorphine-assisted treatment to support the small percentage of patients with opioid dependence who have not responded to other treatment option.” It asserts, “There is also a significant body of scientific evidence supporting its use” (CNN).

The policy change marks another attempt on the part of the administration of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to reverse the more draconian substance abuse policies of the pre­vious Conservative government. Supporters of the initiatives spearheaded by the Liberal government highlight dire need for emergency access to diacetylmorphine and contend that it could prove beneficial to mitigating heavy addiction as well as other risks associated with drug abuse.

According to Associate Professor in the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia Eugenia Ovie­do-Joekes and her colleagues who led NAOMI, “[P]rescribing heroin to severe addicts who don’t respond to other treatments might not cure them of their habit, but it can lessen their exposure to life-threatening risks, such as drug overdoses [and] blood-borne viral infections.” The measure could also lessen the societal toll of illicit drug use by reducing criminal activity and health care costs. Though controversial, the arguments in favor of the programs have proven compelling enough to generate inter­est from U.S. policymakers, who are eager to find innovative and practical solutions to ad­dress the heroin epidemic plaguing their own country.

—Jorge Gruber, Guest Reporter

Floods ravage North Korea

On Sept. 10, 2016, floods triggered by Ty­phoon Lionrock hit North Korea, devastating the secluded mountainous northern provinc­es of the country. A United Nations report issued in response to the floods cited a state government publication confirmed 133 deaths, 395 missing and tens of thousands of collapsed homes and buildings. Railways, roads and farmland are submerged in water and there are over 44,000 homeless (The Guardian, “North Korea says floods damaged ‘tens of thousands’ of buildings in the north-east,” 09.10.2016). Most of the destruction has been along the Tumen River, near the border between North Korea and China and Russia.

North Korea’s official news agency, the Ko­rean Central News Agency (KCNA), report­ed that this is the “heaviest downpour” the country has seen since 1945, and that many are suffering from “great hardship” (LA Times, “North Korea’s deadly floods undermine the nation’s projection of power,” 09.15.2016).

An admission of weakness from the public is an extremely rare occurrence for the total­itarian state (CNN, “North Korea makes rare public appeal for flood relief,” 09.15.2016). According to Forbes, complete power and un­wavering strength are crucial to maintaining the ruling Workers’ Party’s control over the people (Forbes, “Systematic Tyranny: How the Kim Dynasty Holds the North Korean People In Bondage,” 08.29.2012).

Flooding cause by the typhoon, which also passed through Japan and Russia, hit during the harvesting season, destroying many of the crops and inciting widespread panic about the state of food supply. The mountainous terrain is largely bare of vegetation that could hold back landslides and water, thanks to strip min­ing and the construction of rice terraces. The combination of these activities mean that the water floods uncontrollably downhill, destroy­ing properties and farmland as it goes.

The question of food supply is a particu­larly critical one, since the northeastern area that was worst affected is among the poorest in the nation. Under normal conditions, about 70 percent of North Koreans regularly go hun­gry, and one in three children under the age of five suffer from malnutrition (LA Times). North Korea already depends heavily on for­eign aid to feed its population; the UN has allocated 8 million dollars this year alone to aid humanitarian efforts in the country (BBC News, “North Korea floods: Tens of thousands displaced,” 09.13.2016).

The well-being of the affected population in the coming harsh winter months, while they will be without food or shelter, is of great con­cern to the United Nations. The number of af­fected people is only expected to increase as the weather worsens. Relief workers believe they do not yet know the total effect of the storms, since they are just beginning to enter regions previously rendered inaccessible by the flood (LA Times).

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) sent emergency food assistance to more than 140,000 people on Sept. 14, and the North Korean government launched a campaign to rebuild the affected areas. According to BBC News, “The campaign means that workers have been diverted from many of North Ko­rea’s set-piece construction projects and sent to Hamgyong Province to shore up river banks and build new homes” (BBC).

The North Korean regime has faced harsh criticism since the arrival of the floods. It came just days after the confirmation of the military’s fifth nuclear test, for which the UN has proposed renewed sanctions (The Guard­ian). The sanctions would only make aid even more difficult to procure. According to CNN, the Worker’s Party of Korea seems to be more concerned with preventing social unrest and potential uprisings than with providing for the safety and well-being of its people (CNN). Fur­thermore, according to BBC, the floods were not the KCNA’s main story; the local media fo­cused on leader Kim Jong-Un’s visit to a plen­tiful farm during harvesting instead.

—Katherine Ni, Guest Reporter

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