NewsBriefs BUTTONS

Allow Maintenance Prescription of Heroin and Cocaine, Says Canada's National Task Force on HIV-AIDS


July 1997

Decriminalization of heroin and cocaine possession ought to be the next step in the fight against AIDS, says a report released on May 22 by Canada's National Task Force on HIV, AIDS and Injection Drug Use ("HIV/AIDS and Injection Drug Use: A National Action Plan," National Task Force on HIV, AIDS and Injection Drug Use, May 22, 1997; John Bermingham, "HIV infects one in four drug users: Task force says decriminalize cocaine and heroin possession," The Vancouver Province, May 23, 1997, p. A4).

"Vancouver has the most aggressive outbreak of HIV in injection-drug users in North America, probably in the world," said Mike O'Shaughnessy of the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV-AIDS, and a member of the task force. HIV infects 25% of Vancouver's intravenous drug users, according to the report.

Among the task force's proposals for a "National Action Plan," were the recommendations that physicians be allowed to prescribe heroin and cocaine to drug users; that the possession of small amounts of currently illegal drugs be decriminalized; that stricter penalties for the trafficking of drugs to minors be instituted; and that methadone maintenance programs be available to addicts in prison. The task force also said that pharmacies should be able to sell needles over-the-counter.

The task force called for changes in the Criminal Code "by adopting laws that favour a medical approach over a criminal one." The task forces recognized "that abstinence is not always a realistic or feasible goal for the individual using currently illegal drugs and that, in the interest of public health, alternative methods must be considered." In addition, the task force wrote, "all recommendations are aimed at decreasing the marginalization and stigmatization of injection drug users, and particularly those living with HIV or AIDS."

The task force originated within and was funded by Health Canada. The Canadian Public Health Association and the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse coordinated the project. The Chair of the task force was Catherine Hankins, M.D., who works at the Montreal Regional Public Health Department.

The report is available on-line at:

For more information, contact Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy - Tel: (613) 236-1027, Fax: (613) 238-2891.