Pubdate: Wed, 22 Jan 2003
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: 2003 The Vancouver Sun
Author: Pamela Fayerman


Study Shows Treatment Needed, Too, Vancouver's Police Inspector Says

Vancouver's top drug cop says he's not surprised by a new study that shows 
a record seizure of heroin on the Downtown Eastside had no measurable 
effect on the supply of, or demand for, the drug.

In fact, the price of heroin went down and overdoses went up slightly in 
the month after the seizure of 100 kilograms of heroin in the fall of 2000, 
according to the study by University of B.C. researchers in the current 
Canadian Medical Association Journal.

At the time, the seizure was described as one of Canada's largest. It came 
after a police investigation of nearly two years and resulted in several 

The results suggest either that subsequent shipments and trafficking easily 
compensated for the seized drugs or the cache wasn't bound for the local 
market, the researchers concluded.

Inspector Kash Heed of the Vancouver police department, said the study 
proves that law enforcement doesn't have the desired effect either on the 
drug market or on public health.

"I'm not saying that I advocate sitting back; we have to do our jobs. We 
can't just let the criminal enterprise carry on. But we must also balance 
law enforcement with more educational initiatives so our youth don't get 
into drugs. We need to be offering more detox and drug treatment," Heed said.

Dr. Martin Schechter, co-author of the study and head of the department of 
health care and epidemiology at UBC, said government policy-makers are 
squandering hundreds of millions of dollars on an ineffective drug strategy.

More than 90 per cent of the nearly $500 million spent annually on the war 
against drugs in Canada goes toward law enforcement.

"According to a World Customs Organization report, even post-Sept. 11 
security measures have had a negligible effect on the inflow of drugs into 
the U.S.," Schechter said.

The study noted an analysis conducted by the United Nations office for drug 
control and crime prevention suggests that not more than five per cent of 
the global illegal drug flow is seized by law enforcement agencies.

Heed said that locally, "We are lucky if we interdict 20 per cent of 
illegal drug shipments."

Building on Australian research demonstrating there is no evidence heroin 
seizures affect the price, purity or perceived availability of heroin, UBC 
researchers decided to base their study on groups of drug users, comparing 
their experiences before and after the big bust.

The study participants had already been recruited into an ongoing injection 
drug user study so the questions they were asked -- about how law 
enforcement affected their drug sources, prices and use patterns -- were 
the same before and after the seizure of uncut heroin, which arrived 
through the port of Vancouver.

The study reports on 138 drug users interviewed a month before the seizure 
and 123 users a month later. There was no statistical difference in their 
access to drugs or their frequency of use. Heroin prices actually went down 
from $20 a hit to $16 and recent non-fatal overdoses went up from 10 in the 
before-seizure group to 16 in the post-drug bust group.

"Our findings support the strong consensus that curbing HIV and overdose 
epidemics will require a shift in emphasis toward alternative strategies 
based on prevention, treatment and harm reduction, even if this shift 
necessitates a diversion of resources away from criminal justice 
interventions," the study authors state.
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