Pubdate: Wed, 23 Aug 2017
Source: Metro (Vancouver, CN BC)
Copyright: 2017 Metro Canada
Author: Jen St. Denis
Page: 6


Overdose crisis linked to prohibition, expert says Vancouver

In 2001, Doug MacPherson developed the City of Vancouver's Four
Pillars drug strategy, a policy that emphasized concepts like harm
reduction (such as safe injection sites) as well as addictions
prevention, treatment and drug trafficking enforcement.

The deadly overdose crisis shows no sign of stopping. Earlier this
week, Vancouver reported that at 232 deaths in 2017, the city has
already surpassed 2016's entire total. MacPherson is now turning his
attention to a "total rethink" of Canadian drug strategy and is
calling for what he calls "the legal regulation" of all drugs. Metro
spoke to MacPherson about political risk and what it takes to move
controversial policies into the mainstream. MacPherson was recently
awarded the Nora and Ted Sterling Prize in Support of Controversy from
Simon Fraser University. He'll deliver a lecture on drug policy after
receiving the award on Oct. 10.

What holds us back when it comes to acceptance of legalizing or
decriminalizing drugs?

People are very risk averse when it comes to drugs.

They tend to lapse to the same old, same old thinking, which isn't
moving us forward. In fact, it's killing people and making things
worse at the moment.

We really need to break this logjam in thinking if we are to make
progress on issues like fentanyl. And fentanyl's a product of drug
prohibition. Drug prohibition favours highly concentrated substances
because they're easier to smuggle.

In the past when you worked on the Four Pillars strategy, you had a
breakthrough - you got political buy-in and it became a model for
other cities. How did you make that breakthrough?

It was kind of a perfect storm in a positive sense.

You had a crisis, you needed a response of some sort … you had a mayor
(Philip Owen) who was willing to go out on a political limb, you had a
community that was very organized and were calling for change, which
you have now too. And you had leadership at all levels of the
community, from the people on the street to people at city hall to
people in the provincial bureaucracies to federal bureaucrats in
Ottawa, who were pushing for a new approach.

Today we have a spike in opioid overdoses, because of the addition of
fentanyl to most street drugs. What was the crisis in the late 1990s?

The crisis then was very similar.

It was an overdose epidemic across British Columbia.

It was an HIV epidemic among intravenous drug users, and it was a
toxic drug supply in the sense that the heroin that was being used at
that time was way stronger than people were used to.

With the overdose crisis, we have seen more people speaking out in
support of legalizing or decriminalizing drugs, how important are
those groups and who else needs to join?

We need people in positions of power within the health field, but not
just the health field.

It would be great if police would speak out and say we need to try a
new approach.

The premier, the minister of health, the minister of mental health and
addictions - they need to embrace this way of thinking too.

How do you respond to those who fear legalizing or decriminalizing all
drugs will lead to a free-for-all and rampant drug use?

Right now is the free-for-all. It's a totally unregulated,
unsupervised, uncontrolled market that we know exists in a big way
around the world.

We're talking about the opposite: a highly regulated situation where
people have access to drugs at known dosage and in many cases
supervised use.
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