Wednesday, 16 June 2004

Heroin for Therapeutic Use

File this one under 'Brain Links'. It's about the human central nervous system, and specifically, the response of it to a certain alkaloid.

Janet Albrechtsen writing in The Australian makes an unimpeachable case for removing the blanket ban on Heroin.

Her father died of cancer, and was in pain throughout his illness. Pain that wasn't always relieved (or in the current phraseology 'managed') successfully using Morphine or other analgesics.
It is true that morphine is a derivative of heroin, otherwise known as diacetyl-morphine. But heroin is more soluble, entering the body faster, absorbed quickly into fatty tissue like the brain. Heroin users talk about feeling a "rush". After that initial euphoria, heroin causes an alternately wakeful and drowsy state.

I don't want junkies determining drug policy but that they favour heroin over morphine suggests that the terminally ill might also prefer it. Euphoria is the wrong word for those dying of cancer, but if heroin can offer any kind of relief, mental or physical, why not offer it?
At one time in my life, the pain centre in my brain was so over-stimulated I was having minor epileptic fits. Fortunately, Pethidine (Demerol, Meperidine) worked sufficiently well for me. One shot of 750 mg would stop the fitting, and after another I'd be able to communicate coherently rather than just gasp, at least for about two hours. Eventually my immune system kicked in and I got better - as happens sometimes. That was over 25 years go, but it's not something you easily forget, or wish to remember.

Right now, the husband of a friend of mine has small-cell lung cancer, which has spread widely, including into his bones and spine. Given enough Morphine to make the pain bearable, he becomes a Zombie. If legal, pure and good-quality Heroin was available, he'd have a far better quality of life in the time he has left - and also be able to look upon Life as something worth living, and hence increase his chance of survival.

But where he's living, it's not available. Had he been in the UK, a doctor could have prescribed it. Now it's too late for any change to legislation to help him, he'll either stage a miraculous recovery in the next few months (miracles happen, even one in a million shots happen to somebody) or he won't. But he won't be the last person to get SCLC, nor to suffer agony because of it.

So in the name of Humanity, the total prohibition of Heroin should be repealed. The arguments against - that it would increase illicit use - are at best hypothetical, and given the availability of illegal, impure and often poisonous stuff on the streets, more than dubious.

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