HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Death Toll Mounts While Gov't Searches For Votes
Pubdate: Wed, 22 Jul 1998
Source: Vancouver Province (Canada) 
Source: Vancouver Province Contact:  Jim McNulty


The latest figures on drug-overdose deaths in B.C. are out, and it comes as
no surprise to learn that this enormous problem is steadily getting worse.

In the first six months of this year, 201 people across the province died
from drug overdoses, a 37-per-cent increase over the same period last year.
In Vancouver, 116 people died from overdoses between January and June, 38
more than died in the first half of last year.

"If things keep up at this rate, there may well be over 400 deaths this
year," warns Larry Campbell, B.C.'s chief coroner. Meanwhile, the rate of
HIV infection among injection-drug users in Vancouver's downtown east side
continues to be among the world's worst.

The toll of this carnage, both in human and financial terms, is staggering.
And yet the federal government and its provincial and municipal cousins
continue to ignore repeated calls for bold action to reverse the trend and
start saving lives.

Ottawa's own Canada Drug Strategy identifies substance abuse as "primarily a
health issue," but the Chretien regime refuses to deal in any substantive
way with pleas from experts to allow the legal prescribing of heroin to
addicts.  Perversely, it pushes on with a criminal-based "war on drugs"
while at the same time acknowledging that it hasn't worked.

Heroin is prescribed to addicts in parts of Switzerland and England, where
the approach is successful in reducing drug-related crime, boosting
employment among addicts, and getting users off the street and into a
medical setting to deal with the addiction.

Dr. Campbell wants it in B.C., as does his predecessor Dr. Vince Cain.
Others calling for it include provincial health officer Dr. John Millar, the
Health Officers Council of B.C., and former Vancouver deputy police chief
Ken Higgins.

The federal Liberals and provincial NDP, fearful of the politics involved,
have responded by wringing their hands and tossing the drug "file" back and
forth like a ping-pong ball.

"The community that is dying traditionally does not cast a lot of votes,"
says Vancouver police Const. Gil Puder. "That's the fundamental problem. The
policy-makers do not really care a whole lot about these people."

Nor does a society that sits by while the death toll mounts, content to
write off addicts as losers and misfits. Until society at large starts
showing concern and pressures politicians to do the right thing, nothing
will happen.

This is a curious world we live in. Alcohol is legal in Canada, even though
the cost of alcohol abuse is far greater than that of illegal drugs.
According to the Canada Drug Strategy, alcohol abuse racked up $7.52 billion
worth of health, social and economic costs in 1992, while illicit drugs were
far behind at $1.37 billion.

"The worst drug we encounter in our job as police officers is not cocaine or
heroin, as many people think, but alcohol," Vancouver beat cops Toby Hinton
and Walter McKay wrote in a recent article.

North America once tried to stop alcohol consumption, but prohibition was a
miserable failure. Now, drinking is considered to be normal behavior.

North America is still trying to stop drug consumption, but it is also a
miserable failure. We won't be able to eliminate drugs any more than we
could alcohol.

Drug abuse certainly can't be considered normal behavior -- but a change in
approach will at least allow health workers to treat addicts as sick people,
and start reversing the body count.

If we gave a damn, that is.

By everyone's account, resources to deal with addiction are woefully
inadequate, and yet Ottawa and Victoria managed to find $75 million each for
leaky-condo owners. When new stucco becomes a higher priority than saving
human lives, we're in big trouble. 

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Checked-by: Melodi Cornett