Pubdate: Thu, 21 Jul 2016
Source: Now, The (Surrey, CN BC)
Copyright: 2016 Canwest Publishing Inc.
Author: Tom Zytaruk

Drug overdoses


Wow, let's pour more gas on our fire, shall we?

It is of course outrageous that Surrey recorded so many drug overdoses
this past week. I won't even venture a guess how many we're at today,
because they're happening every day, along 135A Street, or "The Strip."

Back in the early 1990s, when people referred to "The Strip" - also
known back then as "The Stroll" - they were talking about a stretch of
roughly three city blocks along King George Highway, between 105th and
108th Avenues, which at the time had a monumental street prostitution

People in the social services business grew worried about the spread
of AIDs. Along with prostitution came intravenous drug use.

I'm not quite sure what happened to the street prostitutes. Back then,
literally dozens worked the strip. You saw them all the time,
mid-block and on all the corners. I recall interviewing one of them,
one Friday night, when she wasn't busy with her tricks.

She ran a tight schedule. There was actually a small line-up of johns
leaning against a shop wall, each waiting his turn.

Anyway, someone thought it was a good idea to set up a needle exchange
in Whalley like the one they already had in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

And so Surrey's opened in November 1992, on 135A Street. Bob Bose, who
was Surrey's mayor at the time, urged caution, warning the health unit
that such a move would surely gall local residents who were concerned
that handing out free needles would only exacerbate drug abuse here.

Smart fellow, that Bob.

Later came the Front Room. Free condoms were also handed out. As a
result, "The Strip," as it were, seismically shifted over to 135A
Street and, free needle by free needle, morphed into the god-forsaken
stretch of road it is today.

Last week, Lookout Emergency Aid Society told this newspaper that it
had collected 592,073 discarded needles from Surrey's streets last
year. I don't purport to be a mathematician, but I can say to a moral
certainty that there sure as hell weren't 592,073 needles littering
Surrey's streets back in 1992.

Jumping ahead to 2002, city councillor Dianne Watts, who later became
Surrey's mayor, wanted to see Whalley's needle exchange service
decentralized as it had become a "magnet" for crime in Whalley. She
called on the provincial government to review its delivery model
considering the Surrey RCMP had in the previous year received roughly
400 calls to the exchange and its immediate vicinity.

"So that's every day," Watts told me at the time. "It has been a real
magnet for drug dealers, prostitution and crack houses in the area. We
need to find another way of delivering the service."

City councillor Barbara Steele, who happened to live in a high-rise in
North Surrey, said in 2002 that people are getting "much more
frustrated" with North Surrey's social problems.

"I think something has to be done sooner, not later, and now is the
time it really needs to be done."

Well, here we are, 14 years later. Steele's still on council, and
we're knee-deep in used needles. I exaggerate, but you get the point.

This week, people have overdosed in Surrey by the dozens, thanks to
heroin being cut with fentanyl. Most of those overdoses happened on
135A. In response, the Fraser Health Authority is looking into setting
up a supervised injection site here in Surrey.

Also in response, Sukh Dhaliwal, MP for Surrey-Newton, issued a press
release floating the idea of possibly setting up a safe-injection site.

"I don't believe that this is a time for media soundbites, or blind
ideology that is based on electoral politics," he stated. "I want to
get all local elected representatives together in a room with health
experts, community support workers and law enforcement so that we can
have an honest discussion that leaves no stone unturned, and considers
all possibilities to fight this crisis."

Mayor Linda Hepner's take?

"I'm really not in favour of a stand-alone safe injection site," she
told me this week.

She wants a solution to the drug problem here but fears setting up a
dedicated site "puts it squarely forever in the community." Given
Whalley's experience over the past couple of decades with handing out
needles, etc., you can't fault Hepner's trepidation.

There's a fine line between saving lives and enabling behaviour that
puts lives at risk. Whatever the case, we're more than two decades
into harm reduction in Whalley and things are getting worse, not better.

As Albert Einstein said, "The definition of insanity is doing the same
thing over and over again and expecting different results."

And then there's W.P. Kinsella's novel, Shoeless Joe, in which the
author writes, "If you build it, he will come."

Of course, Kinsella was referring to a baseball diamond, not a needle
exchange or a so-called safe injection site. But the same concept
applies, I think.

After all, the Downtown Eastside is just a SkyTrain ride away from
Whalley. Will more drug abusers be drawn to Whalley from elsewhere,
with added services? History tells us the answer is yes.

So what to do? I don't know the answer. Haven't a clue.

All I do know is that these types of services, while perhaps a
necessary evil, have not done the Downtown Eastside or Whalley any
favours but rather quite the opposite, and you don't need to be an
Einstein to see that.
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MAP posted-by: Matt