Pubdate: Wed, 07 Feb 2001
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: 2001 The Vancouver Sun
Contact:  200 Granville Street, Ste.#1, Vancouver BC V6C 3N3
Fax: (604) 605-2323
Page A15
Author: Dr. Alex Wodak


I had the very great fortune to visit your astonishingly beautiful city 
last year, but the appalling problems of illicit drugs were distressing 
(Editorial: Support signals a time for action on drugs, Editorial, Feb. 1).

The open drug scene in the Downtown Eastside area was particularly 
upsetting. When officers from the nearby police station visited the area, 
the drug users disappeared like mist. As soon as the police had passed, 
they reappeared.

The epidemic of drug overdose deaths in B.C. and the HIV epidemic among 
injecting drug users in Vancouver are immense public health problems. 
Vancouver faces problems resulting from drug injecting which are as serious 
as any city in the developed world.

It is obvious these problems are not going to be solved by pouring even 
more money into intensified law enforcement. Drug problems need to be 
recognized for what they primarily are -- health and social issues. Law 
enforcement does have an important role to play, but that should be a 
secondary role. Some other cities have been in a similar situation, but 
turned things around within a few years relying mainly on health interventions.

It is very encouraging that Mayor Philip Owen and Premier Ujjal Dosanjh 
appear willing to consider innovative and pragmatic interventions that have 
worked in other parts of the world. They deserve strong support.

Problems of this magnitude never get solved overnight. But in a few years, 
Vancouver's experience may assist other cities facing similar problems 
elsewhere in North America. The primary aim should be to reduce deaths, 
disease, crime and corruption. If drug use can also be reduced, that is a 
bonus. But around the world, we have had more success reducing harm from 
drugs than drug consumption.

Dr. Alex Wodak

Director, Alcohol and Drug Service

St Vincent's Hospital, Sydney, Australia
- ---
MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart