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ID: 170

Type of submission: Oral

Conference track: Research

Topics: Drug Policy Reform and Advocacy; Opioid Substitution Therapy Programmes

Presenting author: Susan Boyd

Presenting author biography:

Susan Boyd is Distinguished Professor in the Faculty of Human and Social Development, University of Victoria. She is the author of numerous articles and books on drug issues. She also works with national and community organizations that advocate for drug policy reform and harm reduction initiatives.

Addiction and Heroin-assisted treatment: Legal Discourse and Drug Reform

Susan Boyd

In September 2013 Health Canada approved 21 Special Access Programme (SAP) requests by physicians to prescribe heroin to individual research participants exiting a clinical study (SALOME). SAP approvals would allow former participants to continue HAT treatment outside the study in an interim program in Vancouver, British Columbia. Immediately, the Federal Health Minister announced that her government would stop SAP requests for heroin by creating new regulations. In response to these new regulations, five plaintiffs (former research participants) with co-plaintiff, Providence Heath Care Society filed a constitutional challenge in the Supreme Court of British Columbia to overturn the federal government’s decision to prevent further SAP requests for HAT. In March 2014 an injunction hearing was held to determine whether the plaintiffs could continue to receive HAT.

Methodology: This presentation draws from a critical analysis of the injunction hearing (court transcripts, supporting material, and final judgement) that took place in the Supreme Court of British Columbia (Providence Health Care Society v. Attorney General of Canada, 2014) on access to HAT. Carol Bacchi’s methodological guidelines for critical analysis of discourse were applied to the texts.

Results: Assumptions about addiction, treatment, harm, HAT, and the people who use illegal and legally prescribed heroin framed the injunction court proceedings. In addition, assumptions regarding the criminality and credibility of the plaintiffs’ affidavits, and by extension their physician’s affidavits, reveal how some subjects are constructed as unreliable witnesses.

How addiction and the people who use legal heroin are constituted has policy implications. Assumptions about plaintiffs’ criminality and credibility have implications for drug treatment policies. In addition, the research findings reveal the benefits and limits of civil legal proceedings in shaping drug policy reform.

(Suzanne Fraser, Kate Seear and I would prefer to present together. We have submitted a collective workshop abstract.)