Pubdate: Thu, 19 Sep 2002
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: 2002 The Vancouver Sun
Author: Pamela Fayerman, Vancouver Sun


City's Top Enforcement Officer Cites Failure Of Drug Laws Against Law Of 
Supply And Demand

Vancouver's top drug cop says it often seems hopeless trying to cut off the 
supply of illicit drugs when trafficking is as profitable as it is, so 
finding ways to prevent and treat addiction is the best hope for the 
Downtown Eastside.

"We can not arrest our way out of the drug problem," Inspector Kash Heed 
told participants Wednesday at a two-day symposium exploring ways to handle 
the city's drug problem.

In his tongue-in-cheek assessment of the drug business, Heed, commanding 
officer of the police department's vice and drug section, said if the drug 
industry was not illegal, there would be much to admire about it.

"To start, it is highly profitable. It produces goods for a small fraction 
of the price its customers are willing to pay. It clearly takes advantage 
of the globalization of the economy and skillfully responds to changing 
markets and distribution routes.

"It is global, but dispersed, built on a high level of trust, marketing its 
wares to the young without spending anything on conventional advertising. 
It brings rewards to some poorer countries and employs many of the world's 
disadvantaged and unskilled. Unfortunately, I am not talking about Nike. 
I'm describing the world's drug industry."

To illustrate how profitable the drug trade is, Heed said the price paid to 
a Pakistani farmer growing opium is $90 a kilo.

When it gets to North America, the wholesale price is $80,000 a kilo, and 
on the street, with purity diluted by half, the retail price is $290,000 a 

Heed said many police leaders are reluctant to discuss such issues and they 
worry about losing the power to arrest people should Canada's drug laws 
become more liberal.

"Any police leader who advocates more liberal drug laws or approaches risks 
being pictured as favouring drug use," he said.

While drug abuse wrecks lives and health and fuels crime, Heed said cutting 
off the supply often seems hopeless because there is always another dealer 
to fill the gap from the one who gets busted.

"Our priority is to stop the threats to public order and safety," he said, 
noting that despite the best intentions of law enforcement agencies, 
nothing has worked to reduce supply and demand.

He estimates that 5,000 of the city's hardest drug addicts commit half the 
crimes in the downtown area.

Like most other speakers at the symposium at Simon Fraser University's 
Morris Wosk Centre for Dialogue, Heed agreed more emphasis should be placed 
on health services for addicts and treatment resources for detoxification.

"Asking an addict to be patient and wait for an available slot for 
detoxification and treatment is simply a waste of time," he said. "The 
crisis will pass and the addict will simply pick up their usual habits. The 
opportunity to intervene will be lost and the addict will view the system 
as useless and ineffective," Heed said.

While Vancouver's future drug strategy has focused on such things as safe 
injection sites and heroin by prescription, Dr. Michael O'Shaughnessy, 
director of the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, based at St. Paul's 
Hospital, said there is still a paucity of scientific study to show whether 
such strategies will have a positive effect.

A Swiss study on a heroin and methadone replacement program showed positive 
results but did so with poor scientific design, and a Dutch study has not 
yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, he said.

In his presentation, Evan Wood, a researcher in O'Shaughnessy's program, 
said making safe injection sites available would likely control health care 
costs by reducing infectious disease and overdoses.

Wood's sobering synopsis of the effects of the Downtown Eastside drug 
problem showed that:

- - There are several hundred overdose deaths a year;

- - The lifetime medical costs associated with treating each case of HIV 
infection among drug users is $150,000

- - About $300,000 is spent annually on ambulances transporting overdose 
patients to hospital;

- - 82 per cent of the money spent on B.C.'s drug problem is for law 
enforcement efforts, leaving only a small portion for treatment and prevention;

- - Funding to cover police working in the Downtown Eastside has increased 
from $6.7 million in 1995 to $11.2 million in 2001.
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MAP posted-by: Jo-D