Pubdate: Wed 29 Jul 1998
Source: Vancouver Sun (Canada)
Section: News A1 / Front
Authors: Pamela Fayerman and Kim Pemberton


Law enforcers have lost the war on drugs and the problem should be treated
as a health issue rather than a criminal matter, Vancouver Police Chief
Bruce Chambers said Tuesday .

Chambers made the admission at a news conference called to unveil a report
that recommends, among other things, that heroin be given to addicts at no
cost in tightly controlled trials.

``We cannot even pretend to be winning any more -- we're not even having
decent skirmishes,'' he said of the war on drugs that costs the province
$79 million a year for law enforcement.

Asked if he supports making heroin available to addicts, Chambers
responded: ``Filling prisons does not make sense. Drug use is a serious
health problem . . . what we're doing now no longer works.''

The heroin recommendation was one of 10 in the report by provincial health
officer Dr. John Millar.

Others include:

- - Creation of a Substance Abuse Commission to coordinate and develop
strategies for reducing drug abuse. At present, the attorney-general's
ministry, the ministry for children and families and the health minister
are all involved in addiction issues.

- - An increase in detox, residential care and counselling for injection drug

- - Reduced jail time for those convicted of drug possession.

- - Improved social services for drug users, including housing, street
outreach and needle exchange.

- - Spending an additional $6 million to supply 1,500 more addicts -- 5,400
in total -- with methadone, a synthetic heroin substitute.

B.C. chief coroner Larry Campbell said there have been 224 cocaine and
heroin-related deaths so far this year, meaning the final death toll could
reach 400 by the end of the year -- 100 more than 1997.

Drug addiction is the leading cause of death in adults aged 30 to 49. And
the 30-page report says the drug epidemic is tied to an HIV/AIDS epidemic
because of needle sharing by addicts.

While describing drug addiction as a medical condition not dissimilar to
other chronic conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure, the report
says the epidemic costs the economy an estimated $209 million a year.

That includes direct costs of about $100 million for treatment and law
enforcement and indirect costs that include theft by addicts to support
their habit -- an amount estimated at $500 to $1,000 per addict per day.

Responding to the report's suggestion that heroin be made available to
addicts on a trial basis, Campbell said that while he has advocated the
decriminalization of heroin in the past, he is putting it ``on the back
burner'' and concentrating on trying to get more treatment and other
resources for addicts now.

````I fear as long as we stress decriminalization we will never get the
[detox] beds, the treatment, the other alternatives out there at the
present time.''

Attorney-General Ujjal Dosanjh said his support of heroin trials is
contingent on whether other provinces take part, because Vancouver would be
flooded with drug addicts from across the country seeking free heroin if it
were the lone participant in such a program.

``I will never rule out heroin trials but I won't rule it in either unless
it is in the context of a structured, comprehensive program with the end
objective of getting people off it.''

Dr. Ray Baker, chair of the B.C. Medical Association committee on drugs and
alcohol, praised the bulk of the report but is against prescribing heroin.

``It is likely more harm will result from this than good and there is
insufficient evidence to say it would help. What we do need are more detox
centres, and more methadone replacement and prevention programs geared to
youth, not some fringe marginal research in a pilot project.''

Premier Glen Clark said in an interview that the report won't simply
``collect dust.''

``I'm as troubled as anyone in B.C. about the troubles on Vancouver's
Downtown Eastside and I don't intend not to listen to Dr. Millar,'' he said.

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