By Bruce Alexander
The recent history of methadone dispensing in British Columbia provides an illustration of drug-war treatment for addiction in Canada. Methadone maintenance was introduced to British Columbia in 1963. It entails providing chronic heroin addicts with a legal, orally administered heroin-substitute, methadone, to keep them out of jail, away from needles, and make a normal life possible in spite of their intractable addictions.
Methadone-dispensing was regulated by Narcotic Control Regulations from the outset. These regulations were tightened in 1972, with a corresponding decrease in the number of patients between 1972 and 1975.
As the system had evolved by 1985, methadone in British Columbia was provided both through private doctors (about 500 patients) and through government clinics (about 175 patients). The clinics handled the younger and less stable addicts, whereas older, more stable addicts received prescriptions through the small number of doctors licensed by the federal government to prescribe methadone.
Although the independent physicians were generally more flexible than the government clinics, both were regulated by the police, the Federal Bureau of Dangerous Drugs, and the BC Medical Association. Although these controls restricted the number of addicts who could receive methadone, many addicts used the system to escape the role of criminals. The most successful addicts eventually came off methadone treatment and returned to normal life. Others received both methadone and social assistance for long periods.