Pubdate: Thu, 01 Dec 2016
Source: Georgia Straight, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2016 The Georgia Straight
Author: Travis Lupick


In the rain last Saturday afternoon (November 27), a young First
Nations man lay unconscious in a Downtown Eastside alley.

The lower half of his body remained inside a tent that volunteers had
pitched as an unsanctioned supervised-injection site. It's one of two
locations they've made available to drug users in response to the
fentanyl crisis and an unprecedented number of drug overdose deaths.

"We gave the man four shots of naloxone, mouth-to-mouth, and [chest]
compressions, and he came back," recounted Laura Shaver, a volunteer
with the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) who was working
at the tent that day.

"Then the police officer walks up," she continued. "And he starts
interrogating me. Like, 'Where do you live? What's your name?...the
guy is still on the ground, in the water, waiting for the ambulance.
But the only police officer on-site is over here harassing me."

The first of two tents now operating seven days a week was pitched at
62 East Hastings on September 21. Since then, the group's lead
organizer, Sarah Blyth, estimates that they've used naloxone to
reverse more than 200 overdoses that otherwise could have turned fatal.

They're operating outside the law, but the Vancouver Police Department
(VPD) is allowing the tents to function as supervised-injection sites
and has not arrested anybody who has brought illegal drugs there. But
the November 27 incident that Shaver described prompted Blyth to
request a meeting with the VPD in the hope of ensuring that their
tacit alliance holds.

Interviewed shortly after that meeting, Blyth told the Straight she
sympathized with the VPD.

"It was just a stressful situation," she explained. "They didn't see
that the person [Shaver] was a volunteer. They hadn't called 911. So
he [the officer] didn't know what the situation was."

Blyth described the situation that frontline responders are dealing
with as "completely unprecedented".

"In the past, you have one death or you have one overdose, and that is
so traumatic that a frontline worker would just go home," she said.
"But now, it's back to back to back, all day long.┬ůso it's very
overwhelming for everybody, including police officers."

In the first 10 months of this year, 622 people died of an
illicit-drug overdose in B.C. That's up from 510 in all of 2015 and
370 the previous year. The dangerous synthetic opioid fentanyl has
been detected in about 60 percent of 2016 deaths.

In a phone interview, VPD spokesperson Randy Fincham said police will
not shut down the tents, as they are considered a matter for the
health-care system and not an issue for law enforcement.

"We haven't been interfering with those tents in the Downtown
Eastside," he said. "Obviously, we do know they are there and we are
monitoring them. But any decision as to whether they belong or where
they don't, we would leave that up to health officials."
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