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New York City criticized for its heroin how-to guide

January 4, 2010 |  3:14 pm

Oh, New York City -- your heart may have been in the right place when you published a handy step-by-step safety booklet for drug users. But you might want to rethink your tactics. (Another recent case in point: those “drinking fat” ads.)

The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s 70,000-copy effort to educate heroin users on reducing infection and risk of overdose is coming under fire from federal drug enforcement agents in New York, according to an Associated Press story.

The state's top official with the Drug Enforcement Administration calls the "Take Charge Take Care" guide a "step-by-step instruction on how to inject a poison." DEA special agent-in-charge John Gilbride says the handout is disturbing. 

The nonjudgmental writing style and yellow cover is indeed reminiscent of the "For Dummies" how-to book series.  

But think of the new guide as a verbal version of by-now-commonplace needle-exchange programs, which recently received symbolic White House support with the removal of a federal ban on funding: If people are going to use drugs, no matter how hard you try to stop them, you may as well make sure they do so safely. It ultimately saves on risks and costs to them and others.

Still, I have to wonder about the city's priorities. The 16-page booklet starts out with 10 tips for safer use. Here's a sampling:

No. 1: Prevent overdose.

No. 4: Use new syringes.

Further down, No. 9: Get help for depression.

And finally -- at the bottom of the list -- No. 10: Ask for help to stop using.

Might have been a good idea, if only for appearances' sake, to switch those around a little.

-- Amina Khan