This is an International Crisis

This is an International Crisis
Posted by FoM on November 21, 2000 at 08:12:08 PT
By Frances Bula, Vancouver Sun 
Source: Vancouver Sun
Safe-injection sites for drug users and providing free heroin for hard-core addicts on a trial basis are among the strategies the city of Vancouver is recommending in a new drug policy that is the first of its kind in North America. The plan, to be made public today, also includes drug courts that would put users into treatment instead of jail, special treatment beds for young people, day centres for drug users outside the Downtown Eastside, testing of street drugs to help prevent overdoses, and more police to target upper-level drug dealers. 
The plan is the city's response to what Mayor Philip Owen calls an unprecedented drug crisis in which people are dying by the hundreds, while many more are getting hepatitis C and HIV through intravenous-injection drug use. "These trends must stop," Owen said. "We cannot ignore this issue. We cannot incarcerate our way out of it and we cannot liberalize our way out of it. This is an international crisis that is scaring an awful lot of cities." Added the mayor: "Doing nothing is not an option. What we've been doing so far is not working." The report accompanying the recommendations notes that Vancouver spends more money per person on dealing with illicit drugs than any other place in Canada. In 1997, the estimated direct costs of law enforcement and health care related to drug use was $96 million a year. The new plan, a copy of which was obtained by The Vancouver Sun, contains 24 recommendations intended to emphasize equally strategies for prevention, treatment, legal enforcement, and harm reduction, a strategy used in some European cities that is known as the four-pillar approach. Like European cities that pioneered it, Vancouver is also taking the position that it has to act even if others are not willing to yet. And, like them, it is also clearly shifting to a position that says drug addiction is a health issue, not a criminal issue. The plan does not commit the city to spending any money or to undertaking any immediate, controversial action. All but two of the recommendations are labelled as the responsibility of other agencies: the federal and provincial governments, the Vancouver/Richmond health board and the Vancouver police department. The report restricts city actions to creating a "Drug Action Team" to coordinate responses to neighbourhood drug issues, and to supporting some kind of process that improves local neighbourhoods' ability to fight back against drug problems. But Owen said the city already spends $10 million a year on programs meant to deal with the drug issue, such as housing and service centres in the Downtown Eastside. As well, he said, the federal and provincial governments, which have the money and authority to actually do something, are looking to the city for leadership and a plan that they can throw themselves behind. "The onus is on us to deliver that to them," said Owen. The policy is only a draft so far. It will be circulated to the public for comment until the end of January, with the final report, reflecting public reaction, due in the spring. But the policy, which sets out a multi-pronged approach that contains some elements that are relatively radical for mainstream politicians, is sure to draw both praise and fire from all sides. Some will say it caters to drug users and perpetuates the problems by suggesting the city consider safe injection sites, a heroin-maintenance experiment, and clinical trials for other medications that could substitute for heroin and cocaine. Others will say the city has backed away from doing anything concrete to start tackling the problem immediately and has caved in to conservative forces by recommending drug courts. Owen says that, while public reaction is important, the city will not agree to a final strategy that doesn't have all four pillars in place. "We're going to be very open, but we're not going to go without the holistic, comprehensive approach. It's going to be controversial, but there's no turning back." Owen said other cities are looking to Vancouver for leadership. "Everyone has a drug problem, all the big-city mayors have talked about this. Every single one is looking for solutions. But nobody is prepared to stand up to the plate." Vancouver's problems have been highlighted because the drug scene is so open, Owen said, but everyone is struggling. Owen said he's already been contacted by the mayors of Yokohama and Seattle for a copy of Vancouver's drug strategy. "We see it all around the Pacific Rim. As soon as you get a prosperous economy, the drug dealers move in." VANCOUVER'S DRUG STRATEGY AND HARM REDUCTION PLAN The city's four goals with its drug strategy: - Push the federal and provincial governments to act. - Restore public order, particularly at Main and Hastings. - Tackle the drug-related health crisis. - Establish a single co-ordinator who can pull everyone together to get things done Its 24 recommendations: ENFORCEMENT - Increase police drug and organized-crime squads to target mid- and upper-level dealers - Start a senior-level "drug action team" to co-ordinate response to neighbourhood drug issues - Start a pilot drug treatment court with a range of options for treatment - Look for legal changes that would help police and courts go after new trends in the drug industry, like dial a dope, public drug consumption, and youth prostitution - Redeploy police officers in the Downtown Eastside to increase their visibility in the neighbourhood HARM REDUCTION - Provide short-term shelter and housing options for active drug users on the street - Set up a task force to look at the possibility of a scientific, medical project to develop safe injection sites - Set up street-drug testing so that people can get quick information about changes in quality in order to prevent drug overdoses - Start an overdose-death prevention campaign TREATMENT - Start a 15-bed treatment unit just for women, women with children, and pregnant women - Set up 20 treatment beds for young people outside the Downtown Eastside - Expand support services for families of children who become users - Set up six medical detox beds at St. Paul's for those with serious medical problems - Take steps to start clinical trials of drugs like buprenorphine as possible substitutes for heroin and cocaine addiction, to increase the options for treatment for people who are methadone resistant - Proceed with the proposed North American research trial into giving heroin to hard-core addicts - Put needle exchanges into all primary health care clinics, hospitals, pharmacies and relevant non-profit group sites in the region - Make methadone easier to get, expanding it by 1,000 clients in the next two years - Provide different kinds of housing for users and people trying to go clean - Pilot day centres for addicts outside the Downtown Eastside to help prevent users, especially young people, from getting involved in the inner-city drug scene PREVENTION - Start a community process that gives neighbourhoods more power to combat drug abuse - Develop a pilot citywide school curriculum on drugs and drug abuse There are also three recommendations urging provincial ministries, the provincial government and the federal government to act in the areas they control. Note: Mayor Philip Owen unveils today his sweeping plan for city's drug crisis.Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)Author: Frances Bula, Vancouver Sun Published: Tuesday November 21, 2000 Copyright: The Vancouver Sun 2000Contact: sunletters pacpress.southam.caAddress: 200 Granville Street, Ste.#1, Vancouver BC V6C 3N3Fax: (604) 605-2323Website: Narcotics Archives
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Comment #3 posted by MikeEEEEE on November 21, 2000 at 12:13:27 PT
Common Sense Approach
This is a common sense approach; about time, and I love it.
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Comment #2 posted by TroutMask on November 21, 2000 at 10:22:40 PT
Canada: The North American Drug Domino
AFTER Canada legalizes cannabis, the anti-marijuana war in the US will be one gigantic step closer to legalization. Regardless of US legalization, AFTER Canada legalizes cannabis my wife and I will have a very easy time deciding where to vacation! LEGALIZE CANNABIS NOW!
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Comment #1 posted by Ethan Russo, MD on November 21, 2000 at 09:31:31 PT:
Canada, Beacon of Reform
I for one am hoping that the Vancouver policy is contagious, and will spread south. It will be increasingly difficult to accuse our enlightened neighbors of lunacy or submission to the "European disease." Why, I even hear that they have orderly elections in Canada with uniform ballots, independent monitoring and quick, reliable results! What is wrong with this country?
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