A University of British Columbia professor says the solution to B.C.'s overdose crisis is simple: give addicts what they want.

Mark Haden, a professor at UBC's School of Population and Public Health, told CBC's The Early Edition giving clean heroin to heroin addicts can be helpful.

"We currently provide opiates for people with opiate addiction [like] methadone and suboxone. It would just be adding heroin to the mix," he said.

We can sidestep those problems by giving people what they want — which is heroin. - Professor Mark Haden

Haden argued people addicted to heroin prefer to use heroin rather than substitutes like methadone and suboxone. He claimed addicts will still seek out illegal heroin even when they're undergoing treatment.

He said if health care professionals provide clean heroin addicts wouldn't be susceptible to drugs tainted by deadly fentanyl or overdose on large amounts of heroin.

Yesterday, the B.C. Coroners Service announced 622 people have died from illicit drug overdoses so far this year, compared to a total of 505 overdose deaths in 2015.

"We can sidestep those problems by giving people what they want — which is heroin," he explained. "It allows people to exit the criminal lifestyle and engage with health practitioners. They actually behave a lot better."

Drug addiction not a criminal issue: Haden

Haden's main premise is drug addiction is not a criminal issue but a health issue.

Drug addiction is harmful not because the drug is harmful but rather accessing the drug is criminalized, he said.

"The devastation occurs because of people's behaviour in a street context," he explained.

Haden believes if heroin is provided freely under supervision, it would save the criminal justice system a lot of money.

Dr. Perry Kendall, B.C.'s provincial health officer and head of the province's opioid task force, said Haden's idea makes sense.

"It was done in the U.K. from 1920 to 1960 and they had very little problems with it. We have people dying from illicit drugs from unknown source and unknown purity and huge profits being made on the human misery associated with it ...We would save them and ourselves a lot of misery and money."

Haden said it is simply a matter of convincing the public providing clean heroin is a good idea.

"The [real] issue is stability and integration into society ... If we see that, we're fine."

With files from The Early Edition


To hear the interview, click on the link labelled Solution to the overdose crisis? Provide clean heroin to addicts says professor