Pubdate: Thu, 25 May 2017
Source: Georgia Straight, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2017 The Georgia Straight
Author: Travis Lupick
Page: 13


At her office in the Downtown Eastside, Lorna Bird argued that
Canada's drug laws actually hurt people a lot more than the drugs 

"I lost two daughters to the war on drugs," she told the Georgia

The first one died of AIDS in 1994. Bird explained that at the time,
Vancouver needle-exchange programs operated with a strict one-for-one
requirement. That forced intravenous drug users to share dirty
needles, spreading HIV.

In 2008, another daughter died of an overdose. Bird maintained that if
she had been able to purchase drugs legally, from a supply that was
regulated and, therefore, clean, she would still be alive today.

Bird said she's bringing those experiences to her role as the new
president of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU).

It's the Downtown Eastside nonprofit's first time appointing an
indigenous woman to its top position. Bird is Metis. She said she
doesn't dwell on her background, but she added: "It lets me give
people a voice."

Bird takes the helm of VANDU during its 20th anniversary and in the
midst of an overdose crisis that last year killed 216 people in the
city of Vancouver and 931 across B.C.

"At first, I remember counting how many people that I had to use
naloxone on," Bird recounted. "And now it's so many that I don't even
count anymore."

She said she wants to apply the lessons she learned losing her
daughters to VANDU's work responding to the fentanyl crisis.

"If doctors had the right to write us prescriptions for what we want
and need, we wouldn't have to go to a corner," Bird explained. "That's
the only way that they're going to be able to stop this fentanyl shit,
because then nobody will have to go out there and buy it."

In recent months, Health Canada has made it easier for doctors to
import prescription heroin, and the federal health minister has voiced
support for the controversial treatment. Bird said that needs to
continue, and she quickly added that policymakers also need to begin
talking about cocaine.

According to an April 2017 B.C. Coroners Service report, cocaine was
detected in 48.8 percent of overdose deaths in 2015-16. During the
same period, fentanyl was found in 43.1 percent of fatal overdoses and
heroin in 37.1 percent. The report notes many deaths involved more
than one drug and it is impossible to determine which one was
responsible for an overdose.

Bird said that is why VANDU's priority will continue to be to push for
the government to legalize drugs and regulate supply.

"There is a way to stop it, and that's the medical way," she said.
"Until they do that, I don't know how many more deaths there are going
to be."
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