Volume 96, Issue 60
Thursday, January 16, 2003

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The new heroin, but not really

Heroin is not a drug anyone takes lightly. Although no longer available for medicinal purposes in most countries, medical experts have a difficulty calling heroin a "recreational drug" because of its dangerous and addictive nature.

The Works is a Toronto health clinic that has garnered the attention of the media and health care industries. Offering things such as needle exchange, counselling, tuberculosis and HIV testing, it draws a number of heroin users through its doors. Most recently, The Works has also been proud to boast of a methadone maintenance program.

Methadone is an opiate and, although it is commonly used to help opiate addicts fight an addiction, the drug is still controversial.

"The methadone clinic has a doctor that comes in once a week to see the patients, write their methadone prescription and make any referrals that are necessary," explained Jeff Oftofsky, a community supporter and peer advocate at The Works.

While The Works does not preach sobriety, the methadone program has helped narcotic users lead more productive lives.

"[Methadone] is an opiate drug like heroin, however, the difference is that it works for 24 hours, so you don't have to dose constantly. It's legal and prescribed by a physician," Oftofski said. "It's a synthetic opiate - it's not from a plant and you don't have to take it every day. You don't get the same kind of euphoria that you get from heroin or morphine, but it's very effective at letting a person just be normal."

Withdrawal symptoms from heroin include diarrhea, panting, spontaneous orgasms and ejaculations, twitching, insomnia, irritability and depression - all things that make everday living difficult.

Dr. Michael Cook, a professor in Western's pharmacology and toxicology departments, stressed that the success of methadone use is dependent on the individual.

"The major objective [of methadone] is not achieving a high, but preventing withdrawal," Cook said. "That individual has to have the motivation to have a normal life and that's sometimes where it breaks down - because some individuals are not on the methadone program of their own volition. It works for some and not for others - that's the problem."

The Works is located at 277 Victoria St. in Toronto (416)392-0520.

-Andrea Chiu


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