Pubdate: Tue, 17 Apr 2018
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2018 The Toronto Star
Author: Perrin Grauer


VANCOUVER - Vancouver city councillors agreed the city's approach to
harm reduction may appears extreme to those who haven't experienced
the overdose crisis' impacts first-hand.

But Coun. Hector Bremner told StarMetro he thinks those skeptical of
harm reduction simply haven't had an opportunity to learn how it
really works.

"The average person going about their day to day life, worrying about
their family and putting food on their table is not necessarily deeply
involved in these issues," Bremner said. "And so they go with what
they feel, or what they know, or what's the societal norm.

"But of course, your intuition and what research and science and
experience will teach you are going to be different."

Bremner's comments came following a city council meeting Tuesday in
which doctors, health officers and people who use drugs presented both
scientific evidence and personal testimony on how reducing stigma
around drug use actually saves lives.Article Continued Below

Advocates' calls to decriminalize illegal drugs were at the heart of
the presentation.

Federal and provincial politicians have acknowledged that stigma
against drug use is a main reason many don't seek help from doctors or
social agencies.

Nine-in-ten overdose deaths in B.C. last year happened indoors, away
from professional supervision, according to the B.C. Coroner. That
same year, nearly half of overdoses didn't involve a call to 911.
People's fears of being arrested for drug possession topped the list
of reasons not to ask for help.

The federal government passed the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act
last May, which grants immunity to people calling 911 during an
overdose from facing possession charges.

Mayor Gregor Robertson has publicly endorsed the idea of
decriminalization earlier this year.

But Bremner said more needs to be done by politicians like himself to
give both average citizens and leaders from other cities and provinces
the chance to see the humanity in people who use drugs - and to learn
how decriminalization could save lives.

"I think as elected people, we have to do a better job of going out
there and communicating," Bremner said.

Karen Ward, a member of the mayor's mental health and addictions task
force, said decriminalization is a crucial part of creating a society
in which people who use drugs are as equal and valuable as everyone
else, and worth saving - regardless of how drastic the idea might seem
to some.

"There's no clearer indication of the stigma that people endure as
drug users than putting them in jail," Ward told councillors. "That's
a very direct physical result of being thrust outside of acceptable

Coun. Kerry Jang told StarMetro leaders from other cities are often
shocked when he speaks in support of decriminalization.

"When I talk to other city councillors they get this gut reaction:
'Oh! It's a free-for-all.' And that's not the case at all," Jang said.

The evidence that programs such as opioid substitution therapy save
lives becomes undeniable, Jang said, when drug use is treated as a
medical, not a law enforcement, issue.

"Decriminalization is about making sure somebody doesn't have to go to
a street dealer to survive the day.
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