Pubdate: Thu, 29 Dec 2016
Source: Vancouver Courier (CN BC)
Copyright: 2016 Vancouver Courier
Author: Allen Garr
Page: A10


As this year draws to a close, I'm willing to bet that 12 months ago most
of us had never even heard of the synthetic opioid fentanyl.

The drug was developed in 1959 and has been often used in the form of a
patch to relieve severe pain experienced by cancer patients.

But according to the executive director of the Canadian Drug Policy
Coalition Donald MacPherson, fentanyl and its use has become the latest
"product of drug prohibition."

Criminals have figured it out. An amount equal to a grain of salt when
mixed with cocaine or heroin can give the addict more bang for their buck
and too often have deadly effects. A package the size of your fist shipped
here from China is worth a small fortune on the streets.

And this serial killer has been increasingly peddled to addicts throughout
B.C. and across the country for four or five years now. Those courageous
and committed folks who work to prevent deaths caused by drug overdoses
have watched the number of fatalities climb and have pushed for more
supervised injection sites like Insite.

But their efforts were thwarted by a Harper-led federal Conservative
government, first in the courts and, when they failed there, with a piece
of legislation, "The Respect for Community Act." That legislation
established insurmountable barriers to harm reduction that only led to
more misery and death.

There has also been a steady and building movement advocating the
decriminalization of drugs particularly since the cause of "harm
reduction" was taken up by former Vancouver Mayor Philip Owen 15 years

Since then there have been two Vancouver-based projects dealing with
heroin addicts: "Naomi" and "Salome." Both provided addicts with regular
doses of pharmaceutically pure heroin or hydromorphone in a controlled
environment described this way: "Throughout the treatment period, an
interdisciplinary team of physicians, nurses, social workers and
counsellors are available to help participants achieve stability in their
life, seek employment and find suitable housing."

As a result, lives stabilized and criminal activity declined. But the
federal government's refusal to go any further has meant that those
studies have been left to gather dust while the death toll among addicts -
particularly thanks to fentanyl entering the scene - has soared. In
British Columbia, there were 480 overdose deaths in 2015 and 755 for the
first 11 months of 2016.

In April of this year, B.C.'s Medical Health Officer declared a state of
medical emergency. On Sept. 20, the day before folks received their
welfare cheque and many on the Downtown East Side fell prey to drug
dealers, former park board commissioner Sarah Blyth and long-time drug
addiction advocate Ann Livingston erected a "pop-up clinic" of sorts to
help prevent overdose deaths.

It took the November figures on deaths to actually jolt the provincial
government and Health Minister Terry Lake to start funding and authorizing
more supervised injection sites even though those sites failed to meet the
criteria under the existing federal law.

And while on that subject, it took the Trudeau Liberals a year after their
election to introduce Bill C37, which will roll back Harper's Respect for
Community Act and replace it with conditions for opening up a supervised
injection site more closely aligned with the Supreme Court of Canada's
ruling. That act has still to be passed. And even then it will take time
to have an effect.

Meanwhile, Vancouver city council at its last meeting approved a 0.5 per
cent hike in next year's property tax to assist the city's first
responders in meeting the growing crisis of overdose deaths in the city.

Yet, I can't help but think if fentanyl was a virus killing people and not
a controlled drug, governments would be doing much more to mitigate its

I agree with advocates who have been saying for years now that we need to
change the laws around controlled drugs, stop criminalizing drug use and
treat addiction as a health issue.

Portugal is often cited as a country that has followed this path. And what
they have found is that drug-related deaths are down as is criminal
activity and all the costs related to those activities.

Failing that, the numbers of fatalities is likely to grow as that serial
killer continues to rack up its victims.
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