By Dan Walton
Dr. Peter Entwistle hopes to change the economics of severe drug addiction.
“As much as we disapprove of people drinking and doing drugs, we’re just pushing them towards the criminals (through prohibition),” he said.
Instead of putting more resources into the war on drugs, Dr. Entwistle believes the government should take a radically different approach: undercut criminal drug networks by prescribing free illicit drugs including heroin.
Given that many Canadians have to pay for their medicinal prescriptions, he understands that his proposal to give heavy recreational drugs out for free might not be embraced by everybody. But he’s surprised more people aren’t already angry about “a health care system that is completely broken.”
“It’s not a case of free heroin for everyone – it’s a case of tailoring treatments to the individual.”
If users have access to prescribed heroin, the risk of consuming fentanyl and other deadly chemicals could be eliminated, Dr. Entwistle said. And if the illegal drugs became free, underground drug networks would lose their revenues.
Currently, patients suffering from addiction can undergo clinical methadone or suboxone treatments. However, “it’s basically replacing one opioid with another,” he said.
And even though Dr. Entwistle questions its effectiveness, “The service is hopelessly under-resourced.”
Beyond ensuring access to less deadly drugs, he says there needs to be a cohesive approach between everybody in the health care, police and prison communities.
It’s a common misconception that most people suffering from severe addiction are homeless, he said, adding that most of his patients are employed, close with their families with good relationships.
“It’s not just one element of society.”
The rate of fatal overdoses does seem to discriminate against age, though. Dr. Entwistle said the peak age group is 30 to 50 years old.
He’s the only physician who treats addiction for Interior Health patients from Oliver, Osoyoos, Castlegar, Midway, Grand Forks, Hedley, and Keremeos. And he splits the duties with another doctor in Princeton.
Whereas in the City of Penticton alone, a team of five doctors and a mental health worker are dealing with the opioid crisis – and that community is still under-resourced, he said.
Last month, Dr. Entwistle was at an all candidates forum between Liberal candidate Linda Larson and NDP Colleen Ross. Both were asked about the problem of addictions, and both offered “inadequate” responses, according to the doctor.
“There’s no coordinated response; no one is taking accountability and in the meantime, people are dying, over 100 people a month,” he said. “They have no understanding at all of how serious this problem is and how it affects our community.”
That’s what compelled him to run as an independent in the May 9 provincial election.