Pubdate: Mon, 20 Feb 2017
Source: Vancouver 24hours (CN BC)
Copyright: 2017 Vancouver 24 hrs.
Author: Garth Mullins
Page: 5
Column: The Duel

This week's topic: Should hard drugs be legalized?


Last month, my colleague Laurie P. died of overdose, one of 116 fatal
ODs in B.C. in January. She was a harm reduction activist and had a
graceful, inclusive style of community organizing.

We've been here before.

During prohibition, people got sick and died from potent or
contaminated bootlegged booze. Organized crime flourished. Then,
liquor was legalized again.

It's time to do the same with hard drugs.

In 2001, Portugal decriminalized possession of all drugs. Overdose
deaths and HIV transmission rates fell. Drug use is down and treatment
is up. Trafficking remains illegal but users get health services, not
jail time.

Meanwhile in Canada, drug use and overdose deaths have increased since
2001. Authorities spent those years arresting drug users and fighting
to shut Insite, a safe-injection site, where staff prevent overdose
deaths, but don't provide drugs.

For some, methadone or suboxone are a way out of addiction. Like
nicotine patches, dangerous substances are replaced with less harmful

But for those in deep addiction, prescription heroin, dispensed in a
clinical setting, may be the only answer.

This treatment has reconnected users to health care, stability, family
and community. It reduces overdoses and HIV transmission. It's well
studied and no longer illegal. But worrying about voter backlash,
B.C.'s Minister of Health won't roll out prescription heroin.

The minister underestimates growing support for this evidence-based,
life saving approach. It's available in several European countries -
some for many years.

Even in the current crisis, drug users are still more likely to see
cops and jails than help and treatment. Over five decades, law
enforcement hasn't made a dent in the illegal drug trade.

Our loved one's lives won't wait.

Shortly after B.C.'s Provincial Health Officer declared an overdose
emergency last year, I asked him about Portugal's drug
decriminalization. "We should think about that as a part of the way
forward," he said.

No more drug user arrests. We need a legalized, regulated
pharmaceutical-grade drug supply. That would put fentanyl dealers out
of business overnight and save taxpayers a fortune in police, court
and jail costs. More importantly, it'd save many lives.

Sen. Larry Campbell says he'll work to legalize opiates. He was B.C.'s
Chief Coroner and on the RCMP drug squad. He ought to know.

Tuesday at noon, community groups, first responders and drug users
will gather in Oppenheimer Park to mourn friends like Laurie P. and
demand more from government than Band-Aids and photo ops.

Everyone's welcome.

Garth Mullins is a broadcaster, activist, writer, musician and trade 
unionist. He's at or  ---
MAP posted-by: Matt