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Neil Boyd (left) and Benedikt Fischer

Criminologist Neil Boyd (left) and health scientist Benedikt Fischer found that 2005 heroin-prescription programs in Montreal and Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside did not lead to more crime in surrounding neighbourhoods.

Heroin trials produce no crime: study

June 25, 2009

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Local residents and businesses can rest easy about having a government-sanctioned, secure heroin-injection clinic in their backyard.

That’s the conclusion of a three-year study of hard-core Vancouver and Montreal heroin addicts co-authored by Faculty of Health Sciences researcher Benedikt Fischer and SFU criminologist Neil Boyd.

The two researchers and two University of Montreal collaborators found that experimental medical heroin-prescription programs initiated in Vancouver and Montreal in 2005 had no impact on their surrounding communities’ drug-related crime and disorder rates.

Fischer and Boyd say the study, the first of its kind in Canada, should reassure health policymakers and government legislators that using heroin-prescription clinics to treat chronic heroin addicts won’t necessarily harm their communities.

"Conventional drug treatment programs can’t help 10 to 20 per cent of long-term, chronically ill heroin addicts kick their habit, but controlled heroin-injection sites have proven to help," notes Fischer.

"About 1,000 of the Vancouver Downtown Eastside’s 8,000 to 10,000 or so heroin-addicted people could benefit from such an ongoing site. But at the end of the day most people care more about whether drug-treatment intervention programs in their midst are going to harm their community rather than help addicts."

Fischer, a Canadian Institute of Health Research/Public Health Agency of Canada research chair, and Boyd undertook the study in 2005. They looked at the community impact of the North American Opiate Medication Initiative (NAOMI) in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and in Montreal’s Plateau Mont-Royal district.

Using police data, Boyd investigated whether controlled, free heroin-injection trials produced a so-called honey-pot effect, drawing more users and dealers to the neighbourhoods because of the prescription sites.

"Block-by-block analysis of the neighbourhoods surrounding the NAOMI sites over a lengthy period of time enabled us to come up with concrete evidence that the project had no honey-pot effect," says Boyd.

"What makes this conclusion all the more convincing is the fact that it was consistent in two Canadian neighbourhoods with strikingly different income, urban, commercial and ethnic profiles."

The study—A heroin prescription trial: Case studies from Montreal and Vancouver on crime and disorder in the surrounding neighbourhoods—was published online last month in The International Journal of Drug Policy. It can be viewed at i.sfu.ca/bnvyPt.

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