as the rate of illegal drug overdose In vancouver Increasingly, a group of activists has enlisted the help of a city councilor to give away free samples of heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine – right in front of a police station.
province of British Columbia Canada’s drug overdose crisis is now in its fifth year of a public health emergency.
A report from the BC Coroners Service last month showed 160 people had died of overdoses in the month of May alone – an average of 5.2 people per day. Chief coroner Lisa LaPointe said 851 people died of overdoses in the first five months of 2021 – a new record for that five-month period.
Toxic drugs are compounding the crisis, particularly the synthetic opioid fentanyl.
This has prompted the City of Vancouver to become the first jurisdiction in Canada to formally exempt possession of a small supply of drugs, including heroin and meth, from federal drug laws. The proposal, called the “Vancouver Model,” lists threshold levels for 15 common substances the city says would lead to a dramatic reduction in seizures by police.
However, activists say that not only were they not consulted on the proposal, but it is not enough.
Anger over the de-criminalization proposal this week culminated in an event organized by the Drug User Liberation Front (Dulf), a Vancouver-based activist group, held outside the Vancouver Police Department.
With the help of City Councilor Gene Swanson, the group gave free samples of clean, checked drugs in clearly labeled boxes marked with what was in the drugs and what percentage. He spent about $3,000 from a crowdsourcing campaign to buy drugs from “trusted dealers”.
Dulph has previously held similar events across the city as part of a public call for a more regulatory framework to combat illicit drugs.
While police say they were not aware of drugs being administered at the event, Dulf organizer Jeremy Kalikam says the group works closely with police and informs them of every planned protest. Kalikam says this includes telling him that the drugs will be handed over.
Kalikam said he also sent a “golden ticket” to the police chief, which was used to distribute drugs to users, so that he could redeem a box for himself.
It is an issue that the police now contest, however, after members of the public expressed concern over the incident in the days following the event.
“We knew about the planned protest, but I’m not sure whether we knew about drug distribution,” says constable Tania Vicintin. “There are several concerned citizens who have reached out. We are currently reviewing the circumstances.”
Dulf distributed the drugs to the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), Tenant Overdose Response Organizers, the Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society and the Coalition of Peers Dismantling the Drug War, who then provided them to their members in the program. Employees of the Overdose Prevention Society were present.
Before her career as a city councilor, Swanson joined after being asked by organizers she had known for a decade working in the Downtown Eastside, one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.
“Most councilors probably don’t go and touch their hands” [drugs] outside but they support secure supplies,” she says.
Swanson says the government is “ignoring” advocacy groups and that the current proposed legislation was “bizarre.”
“They are bringing it in a very bureaucratic manner and it is not going to benefit anyone.
“What our little action showed is that if some groups don’t have much money, a billion-dollar government can.”
Swanson was disappointed by the lack of action on the part of the government, noting that drug-related deaths in B.C. during the Covid pandemic outweighed the number of lives.
“Why not the powers that be to pull all the stops for people who use drugs like they did for Covid?”
Eris Nix, a harm reduction activist and one of the event’s organizers, said her regulatory model works in supplying people using drugs with safer products.
“We are not criminals. We have an unpredictable, volatile drug market caused by drug prohibition,” she says.
“It’s killing our friends, it’s killing our families, it’s killing our neighbors … we need to regulate.”
Nyx says drug dealers often provide prescription drugs with different, harmful substances, such as fentanyl, and a user often has no idea what they are buying. A regulatory framework would put an end to this.
She also believes that a “peer support model” consisting of healthcare and better education for drug users is the way forward, adding that “the current system that includes police, courts and prosecution” needs to be dismantled. .
“When you’ve seen the things we’ve seen, there’s nothing you can do but try to prevent all these deaths. And we think that’s the right way to go about it.”
There is growing evidence that de-criminalizing drugs is an effective way to reduce overdose rates.
Portugal decriminalized drugs in 2001. A decade later, the number of fatal opioid overdoses had dropped five-fold.
As well as a de-occupation proposal from BC, the province would provide $45 million for overdose prevention over the next three years, including safe consumption sites and naloxone supplies.
Although Kalikam says it is not accessible to those who are “at most risk”, doctors are “scared” to prescribe safe supplies, and those who write are “viciously attacked by their peers”. “
He says that decriminalization will not reduce overdose as the supply chain will remain the same.
Wandu staff member Vince Tao does not mince his words on the province’s proposed decriminalization measures, calling it a “bull*** basis”.
Vandu’s mantra, Tao says, is “nothing about us without us”, and the authorities did not consult him to put the proposal together.
Wandoo board member John Braithwaite, who is also a drug user, says that with complete decriminalization incarceration and hospital visits will naturally decrease, as people will be using clean drugs, clean utensils And they don’t have to depend on toxic substances. He says that many of his friends were jailed for illegal drug use, and it was people who “didn’t deserve it”.
Another event with free drug samples will be held on August 31, which is International Overdose Awareness Day.
“We’ll keep doing it until something changes, at which point it’s our only option,” Nyx says.