Dana Larsen: Opium tea will end the overdose crisis

Let's overgrow Canada with poppies to make a safe drug supply

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      I've got an easy way to virtually eliminate injection heroin use and end the overdose crisis in Canada.

      My solution is cheap, easy, and humane. Here it is:

      Legalize opium smoking and opium tea!

      That's right. The best way to get rid of injection drug use and stop overdoses is to let heroin users have access to good old-fashioned opium.

      How do I know this will work? Well, we've seen the opposite happen again and again. Whenever opium is banned, heroin use skyrockets. So it makes sense that when opium use is allowed, heroin use will plummet.

      One study called "The pro-heroin effects of anti-opium laws in Asia" demonstrates when three Asian countries banned opium, "within months, heroin use suddenly appeared; and within a decade, heroin addiction surpassed opium addiction." 

      The same thing happened in Canada over the past century. In 2017, the Province newspaper ran a great article titled: "From opium to fentanyl, how did we get here?"

      In it are a few key sentences describing how prohibition of opium led to heroin: "Under constant pressure from the police, opium users began to inject their hit, as the technique created no smoke or aroma and used smaller equipment, which could be easily hidden."

      It goes on to say: "Because heroin was so potent, it could be smuggled in smaller amounts and distributed much more easily than opium, which made it an attractive product for traffickers. After 1948, heroin was virtually the only opiate available on the illicit market.”

      Canada's original prohibition on opium made users switch from smoking opium to injecting opium, and then to injecting heroin, and now to fentanyl. Opiate users didn't make these switches by choice, they were forced to switch because that's all the dealers had to sell, because of prohibition. 

      The same thing happened again more recently in Canada, on a smaller scale among the Southeast Asian community. A decade ago this community of Canadian opium tea drinkers had their supply cut off, which directly caused a heroin and fentanyl injection crisis. 

      There was a national crackdown on opium-growing in Canada between 2008 and 2011. Here is an article from CBC in 2010 about several big poppy raids in Delta. And here's another article about a poppy bust in Calgary, where the police talk about their new poppy task force. In the U.S., cops shut down poppy pod sales on eBay around the same time.

      In the past, opium poppy tea, called "doda", was popular in Canada's Southeast Asian community. Although there are some health risks around its use, it's actually pretty safe to drink doda tea, which produces a relaxed and pain-relieving effect. The main risks come from mixing opium tea with alcohol or tranquillizers. 

      There's no question that it is definitely much safer to drink opium tea than it is to inject heroin. But the police crackdown on poppy tea a decade ago directly caused more heroin use and helped feed the current fentanyl crisis. Click here for a CBC story from 2017 which makes the connection clear. The article is about the heroin crisis among Alberta's Southeast Asian community. In it, three sentences sum up the problem:

      "A police crackdown around 2008 and 2009 made the drug [opium tea] more difficult to obtain. So users like Yadwinder turned to more potent drugs like heroin. And now the problem is fentanyl."

      We thought that banning opium was the solution to problems around opiate use, but it turns out that prohibition just made all those problems much worse!

      The opiate overdose crisis was created by prohibition. Therefore, the only way to end the overdose crisis is to end prohibition. We need to re-open the opium parlours and let people smoke opium or drink opium tea if they want to!

      We could at least start with current injection drug users, offer them the chance to smoke opium or drink opium tea instead, and see what happens.

      The problem is, where do we get the opium? 

      Help me grow opium poppies

      Over the past three years, I have given away over nine million cannabis in seeds in an effort to "Overgrow Canada." Now, I am also asking Canadians to help me produce a safe drug supply by growing opium poppies and sending me the heads.

      Opium poppy seeds are legal in Canada. You can easily buy them on Amazon, eBay, or from Richter's.

      Even though opium poppy seeds are legal and widely available, growing opium poppies is illegal in Canada. Yet, this is clearly a grey area of the law, as poppies are grown openly in gardens across the country. A patch of poppies doesn't draw police attention, but an acre of poppies being harvested for their heads could definitely get you in trouble. 

      You can find out more about my opium poppy campaign here. The idea is that I want to crowdsource enough poppies that I can produce a decent amount of opium tea and provide it to selected heroin users. I am hoping that we can reduce or eliminate drug injections by offering tea as a safer, better substitute. The more tea I can make, the more people I can help.

      I know this sounds like a wild idea. But with 11 overdose deaths happening every single day in Canada, it's time for a new approach.

      I want to be part of the solution. The experts all say the solution is a safe drug supply, and opium tea is pretty much the safest way to take opiates. Will you help me to save lives, produce a safe drug supply, and end the war on drug users, by overgrowing Canada with poppies?

      Dana Larsen is an author, advocate, and activist for cannabis and drug policy reform. Click here to follow Dana on Twitter.

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