Pubdate: Mon, 21 Apr 2003
Source: Coast Reporter (CN BC)
Copyright: 2003 Coast Reporter
Author: Jan DeGrass/Arts and Entertainment Writer


A controversial film about Vancouver drug users screened by the Sunshine 
Coast Film Society drew a small, concerned crowd to the Heritage Playhouse 
Tuesday night.

About half of the 60-member audience stayed following the film Fix: The 
Story of An Addicted City, directed by Nettie Wild, to question a 
six-member panel of police and local addiction workers about drug use on 
the Coast.

The film is rooted in the downtown eastside of Vancouver, a community where 
users are visible and constantly in the face of residents and police.

It follows the story of Dean, a former IBM salesman, trying to go clean, to 
be normal, but knowing that after nearly forty years of drug use he doesn't 
know what normal is any more.

He has the militant support of a non-user, Ann, who battles on the streets 
daily with the enemies of the city's poorest community.

Together, they form a network of drug users that lobbies in favour of 
former Vancouver mayor Philip Owen's plan for harm reduction.

In 2001, after Owen embraced the results of a study that advocated the four 
pillars approach to drug problems, his own party didn't want to know him.

The pillars are: prevention (including education), treatment, enforcement 
(including the cops) and the fourth pillar -- the one that makes Vancouver 
residents go ballistic -- harm reduction.

That involves setting up legal sites where IV users can inject their own 
drugs in a hygienic, safe place.

It keeps addicts off the streets and in the loop for treatment and 
counselling. Currently, no such sites have been established in Canada.

That puts panelists such as Cpl. Barry Meyer of the Sunshine Coast RCMP 
firmly on the fence over the issue of safe injection sites.

Right now, he has to enforce the law, he says, by not allowing people to 
gather in an area to use drugs. But times are changing, says the 14-year 
police veteran, and prevention is the keyword now.

"It takes time to educate police officers," Meyer said.

Panelist Tom Kelman of the Harm Reduction needle exchange said he was 
concerned about the increased use of crack cocaine on the Coast. Crack 
users smoke the drug quickly; they don't need a needle, so addiction is 
harder to track.

An advocate of the four pillars, Kelman's program has achieved a 99 per 
cent return on their syringes over one year, thereby reducing diseases 
spread through dirty needles.

He estimates that their program sees about 175 to 200 people on the Coast 
who are IV drug users. Kelman views needle exchange as the first step in 
establishing contact with marginalized people so treatment can occur. He 
says we don't see such scenes on the Coast -- as in the film -- of homeless 
addicts and needles under bushes, because most people here use in their own 

But treatment or a detox program is only the very beginning of a long 
journey, says nurse and counsellor Wendy Hunt who works with Home Detox. 
Action Society addiction counsellor Dave Wilson says that one of the 
Coast's major problems is that there are no treatment centres available, 
and addicts must go to other parts of the province.

In the film, Ann, the activist, tells a reporter that treatment doesn't 
work -- that 97 percent of people who leave a treatment centre return to 
using immediately. It's a depressing statistic.

The audience wanted to know if these problems are growing on the Coast.

Panelist Gale Woodhouse, who works with youth, says she is concerned that a 
growing number of young people on the Coast are not making good choices.

She pointed to the importance of having a significant adult in every 
teenager's life who really connects.

"Shouldn't this film be shown in schools?" asked one young woman from the 

"What do you think? It's pretty graphic," said Wilson, referring to scenes 
of addicts lying in a back alley injecting each other in the neck.

"It needs to be seen," the woman answered. "We need to know."

In response to a question about whether politicians were being helpful, 
Woodhouse was the most vocal of the group about the lack of funding 
available provincially for prevention programs.

"Services are diminishing for children and families," she said.

"Our front line fighters are busy writing grant proposals to get the funds 
for the programs."
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