Pubdate: Fri, 15 Jun 2007
Source: Vancouver 24hours (CN BC)
Copyright: 2007 Canoe Inc
Author: Alex Tsakumis
Note: Tsakumis is a freelance writer and a long-time political analyst.


Shorty was a pleasant fellow. Bundled on the loading bay of my
building off Pender, cigarette firmly in hand, and always ready to
provide his commentary on the Downtown Eastside, he was a surprisingly
lucid addict.

He would appear at noon, every Thursday, wayward gait on full parade,
with the mythic abandon of an overgrown imp. I'd hand him lunch
through the bars of the back door, and we'd chat. It was the least I
could do. He kept the back steps so clean after he shot up or "slept"
there when knocked out from the heroin he paradoxically loathed, but
loved. He never beckoned me for money and I never volunteered.

His polite nature belied the ravages of severe drug addiction,
Hepatitis C and HIV. His neck was pockmarked, particularly on his
right side, where the countless needles had created a delicate blue
hue of bruises above the pale backdrop of his weathered skin. Shorty
would tell, eventually, that he had 'shot the tracks' in his feet,
torso, legs and arms so many times that the only "good ones" left were
in his neck.

When I saw him wandering about downtown, he always refused to shake my
hand. "You could catch somethin' Al, eh...?" and he'd laugh. Some
friends wondered how I knew him. Yet others wondered why I would want

To me, he was a friend: Raised in Saskatchewan, an only child, by a
loving but very poor, single mother. He was an ardent TV/movie-buff.
When on his way, he never said goodbye. It was always "fade to black,
that way I know I'll see you again."

His money from working the rigs and occasional movie trailers in
Alberta brought him relative happiness, but, too, a brutal cocaine
habit that eventually landed him on Vancouver's mean streets. Heroin,
first as elixir, became his final frontier.

He hadn't seen Cody, his daughter, since he abandoned her when she was
three. His mother had committed suicide years before I met him. It
bothered him greatly. "They were both better off without me Al ...
all's I can remember is I was never no use to either of 'em. See these
wool gloves, they were Mom's, got 'em from 'er when I said, 'so long'.
I cut the tips off. You're the only friend I got outside this place

He continued, "You know, everybody down here is dead, eh? Most of 'em
are sick in the head, they do the shit just to get by. Really dyin' ..
it be kinda like a break."

He abhorred the idea of a safe-injection site.

"They can't do nothin' with none a these people ... you gotta get 'em
off the stuff ... too many people makin' excuses ... the big
politicians are askin' the wrong questions."

His prophetic words never stopped in my mind when I thought of him, as
much for their stunning as for their truth.

I've been thinking about Shorty lately, very much - with reason. Mayor
Sam Sullivan's drug "strategies" are hardly the "compassionate
approaches" he fawns on about. I've spoken to dozens of addicts - all
delightedly accepting therapy in treatment facilities. I visited
clinics here and in the U.S. and recently met with addicts in recovery
and addictionologists who warned Mr. Sullivan of the peril of his ways.

No shock at all that the warnings fell on deaf ears.

The notion of replacing cocaine with Ritalin or OxyContin, or any
other kind of "legal" drug, is scientifically unsupportable if one
considers that the studies cited are on a small percentage of addicts,
who randomly happen to take to this strategy.

In their results, the studies themselves are inconclusive at best.
It's simply the groundwork for replacement addiction.

Ritalin, for the unaware, is a drug that was used for years to treat
chaotic behavior in children. Instead, it produced an unfathomable
psychosis previously unobserved. OxyContin, is a heavy pain-relief
drug, made famous by the addiction of American Conservative talk-show
powerhouse Rush Limbaugh. Replacement therapy for stimulant abuse is
tricky. It does not deal with mental illness, which is at the genesis
of the vast majority of issues plaguing the DTES and it neither
"replaces" anything, nor, most importantly, breaks the cycle of addiction.

It just buys another kind of crazy. It's not like methadone, which
trumps heroin and completes the drug-receptor cycle. On methadone,
doing heroin is an exercise in futility. On any of the replacement
drugs proposed by the mayor, you can still go about the city and get
higher than a kite. No wonder the participation from the appropriately
respected Dr. John Blatherwick was buttressed by a begrudging,
"...well, I guess we'll give it a shot." Goodness, what a ringing

Sam Sullivan and his cadre of semi-retired hippies, pseudo-social
engineers, and political opportunists have decided that instead of a
workable roadmap to help the addicted-downtrodden (pushing for
multi-disciplinary drug-treatment centres and the reopening of
previously closed mental-health facilities), they will embark upon a
sure-to-fail plan of replacement "therapy" that will somehow sanitize
the DTES in time for the Olympics. Turn a clean Olympic dime, without
the years of government neglect on full display in a soiled vetrina
where we will throw good money after bad at a small portion of the
drug addicted, in the faint hope that this all might work - that's
what Mr. Sullivan is really saying.

In full Olympic delirium, His Worship adds, "We will be eliminating
the dealer..." Sure, Sam. After the dealer has gotten up off the
floorboards of his Ferrari from laughing himself almost into a coma,
I'm sure he'll just wither away, depressed.

The War of Drugs never existed because of politicians precisely like
Mr. Sullivan. Even if you legalized narcotics, the dealer would
concoct better drugs with greater intensity and put the government out
of business. Competition would thrive.

This isn't, after all, Holland, where the same kind of strategies Mr.
Sullivan foams about has proven to create a super-environment of drug
tourism. If the Mayor and his hardliners get their way, Vancouver will
become every drug-tourist's North American destination of choice.

Some former and current politicians of all political stripes are
on-board with the insanity, too. Of course, they are all to blame for
the decades of utterly shameful tunnel vision that got us here in the
first place. Silent Sam is even shamelessly putting up the idea of
closing the 'Four Pillars' (when only one pillar is really working) as
a bargaining chip with his Tory buddies in Vancouver and Ottawa.

On the day I told Shorty my contract was up, he asked me for my
gloves. I gave them up freely; he looked so damned cold. No sooner had
I handed them over, but in gentle resignation, he took off those from
his mother, stuffed them into his pocket and put on the "new" pair.
And then, he reached out his right hand.

"Fair, eh? I get the gloves an' ya get the handshake ya always wanted.
My name is Ian. Take care of yourself and that new wife of yours Al.
I'm gonna miss ya."

And with that, we never saw each other again, perhaps knowing that
while our lives were so very different, our blood was from the same
Eden. Fade to black.

Tsakumis is a freelance writer and a long-time political analyst.
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