Heroin in the hospice: opioids and end-of-life discussions in the 1980s

Which drugs should be available for people nearing the end-of-life and suffering pain? What are the limits of appropriate opioid use in modern medicine and within society? The story of heroin in palliative care during the 1980s remains largely untold, and it’s one thoroughly infused with politics, social values and cultural norms of the time.

I write about this in my forthcoming book and in the newest edition of the Canadian Medical Association Journal. Here are the highlights.

1. In 1979, a celebrity doctor and syndicated columnist, Kenneth Walker, who wrote under the pseudonym W. Gifford-Jones, launched a nationwide campaign to legalize heroin (diacetylmorphine) for Canadian patients with terminal cancer.
2. This story showcases how the politics of pain, opioid addiction, and proper end-of-life therapies present enduring challenges in Canadian society, challenges which remain vital today
3. The early 1980s was an historical moment that saw a renewed discussion of opioids in end-of-life care, but also a time in which the prescribing of strong opioids such as oxycodone began to increase in the United States and Canada.
Please read my full article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.


Cancer controversies and traditional medicines

Today I write for the Saskatoon StarPhoenix and Regina Leader-Post.

The story of cancer patient Ric Richardson, a Métis man from Green Lake, challenges us to think about patient autonomy, medical traditions and Saskatchewan health care.

Just as crucial, his story forces us to reconsider the use and acceptance of traditional Aboriginal knowledge — not only in medicine but in society more broadly.

The full story can be read here:


Immoral or Merciful? Canadian Doctors Divided on Medically Assisted Death — Longreads

Some doctors are struggling with allowing Canadians to die on their own terms.

via Immoral or Merciful? Canadian Doctors Divided on Medically Assisted Death — Longreads

Here I share a powerful article by Krista Stevens.

Fentanyl vs. Alcohol

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) told us today that there’s been a rise in Fentanyl-related deaths in Saskatchewan. No doubt, this is a major issue. But I also wanted to contextualize this story with some information about booze.


According to the information collected by the Office of the Chief Coroner, there have been 41 fentanyl-related deaths in the province from 2010-15. These numbers do not include overdose deaths determined to be suicides.

Alyson Edwards, director of public affairs for the Saskatoon Police Service, said this is an “extremely” important issue.

“Not just deaths, but the number of near-misses, the number of overdoses where fentanyl may have been a factor,” Edwards said. “These are all concerns to us because this drug seems to be a drug of choice among young adults and it just won’t end well if that continues.”

The full story is here: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/41-fentanyl-related-deaths-saskatchewan-since-2010-1.3484346


This bears consideration, of course. But what about booze? What about alcohol-related deaths? What about alcohol-related injuries? Considering I study the history of drugs and alcohol, I had to dig a bit…

I went to SGI – ie., Saskatchewan Government Insurance.

There’s a revealing report from 2016 that demonstrates how Fentanyl is not necessarily the only drug we ought to be worrying about.

Injuries Due to Alcohol-Involved Collisions

2010: 779; 2011: 642; 2012: 736; 2013: 590; 2014: 536 = 3,283

Deaths Due to Alcohol-Involved Collisions

2010: 71; 2011: 66; 2012: 69; 2013: 42; 2014: 59 = 307

Bear in mind, too, that this doesn’t take into consideration 2015.

Am I suggesting we ignore Fentanyl? No way. Am I suggesting that 41 deaths is unimportant? Again, no way. I think it’s a serious concern.

Yet, we should also take stock of the more lethal, legal drug in our province.