Pubdate: Wed, 18 Jun 2003
Source: Vancouver Courier (CN BC)
Copyright: 2003 Vancouver Courier
Author: Mike Howell


A crackdown on drug dealers in the Downtown Eastside has not reduced the 
number of syringes being distributed across Vancouver by the city's largest 
needle exchange, despite fears that addicts would be driven underground.

In fact, the Downtown Eastside Youth Activities Society (DEYAS) reports 
that the number of syringes distributed in May was higher than in March, up 
from 112,396 syringes to 174,989. The police crackdown began April 7.

The Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), Pivot Legal Society and 
various HIV-AIDS organizations had predicted the increased police presence 
would lead to sharing of syringes and a spike in HIV-AIDS cases, because 
addicts would be afraid to visit needle exchanges.

"We're not seeing that," said Judy McGuire, director of health outreach 
programs for DEYAS. "I think having a higher police presence is a very good 
idea. We know a lot of users who actually support that."

McGuire said DEYAS staff have also given syringes to addicts they haven't 
seen in years, as a result of the new sense of safety on the street.

"We're starting to see some of the older and more vulnerable users who, in 
fact, were too frightened to come out of their hotel rooms at night."

DEYAS has a storefront needle exchange at 221 Main St. and distributes 
needles through the rest of the city by van and foot.

It's the largest exchange service in Canada, possibly North America.

Insp. Doug LePard, who is in charge of the city-wide enforcement team 
conducting the crackdown, credits the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority 
for actively improving access to syringes and treatment.

As for the VPD's role, LePard said police are relieved that needle exchange 
numbers don't seem to have been affected by the crackdown.

"There doesn't seem to have been a negative health impact or an impact on 
access to health services, so far."

LePard noted drug overdose deaths have also not increased. B.C. Coroner's 
Service statistics indicate three people died of overdoses last month, 
compared to six for the same period last year.

Despite the increase in access to DEYAS-distributed syringes, Ann 
Livingston of VANDU noted DEYAS' Main Street site-in the heart of the 
Downtown Eastside-distributed fewer syringes this May than the same time 
last year.

DEYAS statistics indicate 98,054 syringes were distributed from that site 
last month, compared to 119,403 in May 2002.

Livingston also said statistics have to be put into perspective, 
particularly when DEYAS distributes about three million syringes a year.

"People might store up tons of rigs, and then bring them to DEYAS," she 
said. "DEYAS is basically going to do this whole thing that anything VANDU 
says about the way police are affecting the users, they're going to pretend 
it isn't happening because that's been our relationship. Whatever we say, 
they say it isn't happening."

Jim Jones, who is in charge of VANDU's needle exchange, said volunteers 
distribute about 1,200 syringes nightly between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m. Jones 
said that number plummeted by a third when police began their crackdown.

"They've made it harder, no doubt about that."
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