By: Nicole Seguin
Last week the New England Journal of Medicine (NJEM) brought to light a saddening issue about addiction and pharmaceutical pain medication, namely OxyContin. While this is an important issue to raise for public discussion, I found that the media coverage of this story lacked some context. Our society is still developing our understanding of addiction, be it of illicit substances or the abuse of pharmaceutical medication, and so we need to constantly evaluate and reevaluate our policies on this issue. Those policies have national, and international, consequences.
The pharmaceutical painkiller OxyContin contains oxycodone, which, like heroin, is derived from opium poppies. Since its introduction a growing number of patients prescribed the substance, as well as people who bought the drug illegally, have become addicted. This has prompted the manufacturer to change the formula of the OxyContin pill in 2010 to make it more difficult to inject or inhale. After the formula was changed, the name of the drug was changed as well, to OxyNeo. The letter published by NJEM showed that since the change to the formula, rates of opioid substance abuse, and the substance used, changed drastically. Those who identified OxyContin as their primary drug used dropped by over 20% just one year later. Over the same time period, use of other opioids such as Fentanyl and hydromorphone rose by over 12%. The substance used to 'get high' in the past month was also asked of respondents, and use of heroin was found to have almost doubled. Read more »
I've had the great honour and privilege to meet Jack Layton on 5 occasions, from brief handshakes and hellos, to speaking in person. I know I am joined by millions of Canadians today in grieving his untimely passing; even as I write this it does not seem real that such an energetic and warm person could no longer be with us.
I first met Jack at the Vancouver Pride Parade in 2009 – I was fairly new to the party and was completely tongue-tied and awe stricken to meet someone I had been learning so much about. In less than a minute, he had shaken my hand, used my name, and made me feel at ease. Then he was off to do the same to hundreds of others who I am sure were equally impressed with his political skill.
At the Quebec Section federal NDP convention I attended last year with Dana Larsen and Jacob Hunter, we had the great fortune to speak with Jack on 3 separate occasions. We found ourselves in the same park as an unaccompanied Jack, and although we hated to intrude on a rare moment of quiet, we went up and said hello. We chatted briefly and he was equally comfortable engaging us regarding marijuana policy as he was on cycling and eating healthy – he recommended we buy a juicer for the best fresh orange juice, and visit the local Ottawa market. When we saw him again at a fundraising gala packed full of NDP activists (and future MPs), I think he rather surprised everyone in the room with his acknowledgement and engagement with us. Wearing our End Prohibition t-shirts, and with an inevitable smell of marijuana we tend to stand out in a crowd. I gave him a Free Marc button, and gave him a brief update on Marc. His entire demeanour showed genuine concern as he asked how Marc was coping.
The highlight of the convention, though, had to be during the wrap-up party at a local bar. Jack approached us, even though we were pretty well hidden from sight in a corner booth, shook Dana's hand, and cheerfully and loudly launched into a story in french regarding marijuana and politics. By the end of the weekend, I knew that we were doing the right thing in being involved with a party with a leader that would seek to make us feel welcome despite the misgivings of others.
The last time I saw Jack was at the NDP Convention in Vancouver. At a fundraising party I watched him make the rounds where he stopped and talked with almost everyone there. Eventually, his wife Olivia came up and started pulling him towards the door – despite being on his way out, he still graciously accomodated my impromptu photo request. I still have that picture as my facebook profile photo. On the final day of the convention, I proudly lined up with my fellow NDP members and watched him make his way through the electric crowd, shaking hands and glowing with enthusiasm. I am so glad I was able to be there for that, and share that moment with members from across the country.
My thoughts go out to Jack's family and friends today. My short moments with him made me feel as though I knew him; I can't imagine how hard today has been for those who were close to him.
I know he made a lasting impression on everyone he met, either in person or through his work, and I know I'll keep working to make his favourite Tommy Douglas quote come true:
"Courage my friends, 'tis not too late to build a better world"
Thank you, Jack. We love you and we miss you.
Dana Larsen and Nicole Seguin talk about their victories at the recent NDP Convention held here in Vancouver and how you can get involved to stop the war on drugs.
PM Stephen Harper has an opportunity to appoint a "vocal critic" of needle exchange as Commissioner of the RCMP. Although hardly surprisingly from the party that challenged InSite's right to operate (a safe injection facility proven to save lives and improve access to addiction treatment), this is one more step in the opposite direction of having a more peaceful and free country.Read more »
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