[Canadian Medical Journal] Background: More than 93% of the nearly $500 million spent annually on Canada's drug strategy goes toward efforts to reduce the illicit drug supply. However, little is known about the effectiveness of this strategy. On Sept. 2, 2000, Canadian police seized approximately 100 kg of heroin in one of the nation's largest-ever seizures of this drug. An ongoing prospective cohort study of injection drug users afforded an opportunity to evaluate the impact of this seizure.
Methods: The Vancouver Injection Drug User Study is a prospective cohort study of injection drug users that began in 1996. The present study relied primarily on data acquired from participants who were seen during the 30-day periods immediately before and after the seizure. We compared drug use and behavioural characteristics, heroin and cocaine prices, and participants' reports of whether law enforcement had affected their source of drugs or the types of drugs available on the street, as well as overdoses, in these 2 periods.
Results: The 138 participants seen before the seizure were similar to the 123 participants seen after the seizure with respect to age, sex, ethnic background, education, HIV serostatus, neighbourhood residence, instability of housing, employment status, use of methadone maintenance therapy and all other measured potential confounders (all p > 0.10). We found no difference in the extent to which participants in the 2 groups reported daily use of heroin, frequency of nonfatal overdoses, or whether law enforcement had affected their source of drugs or the types of drugs available on the street (all p > 0.10). Although we detected no difference in the price of cocaine, the median reported price of heroin went down after the seizure (p = 0.034), which suggests that other shipments compensated for the seizure. External evaluations of deaths from overdoses and heroin purity indicated that the seizure had no impact, nor was any impact seen when the periods of analysis were extended.
Interpretation: The massive heroin seizure appeared to have no measurable public health benefit. Closer scrutiny of enforcement efforts is warranted to ensure that resources are delivered to the most efficient and cost-effective public health programs.
CMAJ • January 21, 2003; 168 (2)