A Tolerance for IV Drug Users 

A Tolerance for IV Drug Users 
Posted by FoM on August 20, 2001 at 21:59:09 PT
DeNeen L. Brown, Washington Post Foreign Service
Source: Washington Post
A woman squats on a stoop in an alley. She is holding an orange syringe in her right hand. With her left, she is squeezing the air as if trying to catch an insect that is not there. Half of the dose of heroin she had been injecting is still in her needle. She is in junkie limbo."She has done a hit of heroin. She hasn't even finished it, it's so good," explains Mel Hennan, who is patrolling the back alleys of this city. Next to the woman is a girl with pale skin and braids tied with green rubber bands. 
She looks as if she could be the cashier at a fast food restaurant. Yet she is scraping the alley with her black fingernails, looking for rocks of cocaine. She is holding her syringe between her teeth like a toothpick as she hunts.A man two dumpsters down does not mind that someone is watching as he unfolds a red pouch, pulls out a syringe and fills it with liquid. He thumps it and pushes it into his collapsing veins.This is heroin alley in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, near the corner of Main and West Hastings streets, the underworld scene of what police call North America's largest open-air drug market. Here, some of the purest and cheapest heroin and cocaine on the continent are bought and sold openly along streets where tourists are warned to watch out for random needle stickings.City officials call Vancouver's drug problem an epidemic as incidents of overdoses soar and addicts crowd some street corners. Last spring, Mayor Philip Owen proposed a radical plan to set up "safe injection centers" or "consumption rooms" where addicts could get clean syringes and inject their drugs under the watch of trained health workers."These legally sanctioned facilities could provide a safe, secure environment where drug users could inject under the care of health professionals trained in safe injection techniques and overdose response and away from the dirt and dangers of the street," the mayor said.Vancouver, on Canada's West Coast, is a major seaport and point of entry for heroin and cocaine. Since the 1980s, the drug market in Vancouver's Eastside has exploded as a result of concentrated poverty, lack of adequate housing, high unemployment and easy access to inexpensive heroin and cocaine in almost pure form. An estimated 12,000 intravenous drug users roam the streets. Since 1993, Vancouver has averaged 147 illegal drug overdose deaths per year. As the death rate increases, so have cases of HIV and hepatitis C. "In 1997, we had escalating HIV and AIDS cases among IV drug users," said Heather Hay, regional network director for addiction services with the health board for the Vancouver-Richmond area. "The Board of Health declared a public health emergency. . . . The health board's position is safe injection sites are a tool to prevent drug overdose deaths."The plan for such sites has drawn praise, but also strong opposition from business groups that say more needs to be done to enforce drug laws and that drug injection sites will only lure more addicts into the area and harm legitimate businesses."The only thing we are against is the location. The location is only a half a block from our center," said Monty Jang, chairman of the Chinese Cultural Center, who said he gives the mayor credit for the proposal."Our center is having a Chinese language school comprising somewhere around 1,500 students weekly," Jang said. "Let me put it this way: with that kind of treatment, you may be attracting a lot of those drug addicts hanging around, and maybe creating some prostitutes to make money and to buy drugs. So that is the only reason why we're against it."But Fred Bass, a Vancouver city council member, said he supports the mayor's proposal. "We've had a drug scene that is out of control," he said. "We have an epidemic of street drug use. It needs to be treated as an epidemic. It is important to recognize how far behind North America is in addressing a comprehensive approach to the drug epidemic."While U.S. cities fight drugs principally with tougher law enforcement, Canadian officials are using a different weapon. They call it harm reduction, an approach that treats addiction as a disease rather than a crime and attempts to keep as many users as possible alive and healthy."In Canada, the drug trade has the potential to generate criminal proceeds in excess of $4 billion [Canadian] at the wholesale level and of $18 billion at the street level," Owen said in a report. "Expectations that extra officers at the street level can significantly alter a problem of this scale and complexity are unrealistic."Owen said that increasing the number of officers on the streets only displaces dealers and forces them to develop more sophisticated marketing strategies. One that emerged recently was called "dial-a-dope." The mayor's report quoted a middle-class cocaine user as saying: "You order a pizza. I'll order cocaine. We'll see which one gets here quickest."Other Canadian cities such as Montreal have studied the possibility of providing safe injection centers. Canada's top drug enforcement officer, Chief Superintendent Robert Lesser of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, has said that cities should explore safe injection sites to stop the spread of HIV and hepatitis C. "I think it's something we have to look at," Lesser said, according to news reports. Cities in Germany and Switzerland set up injection sites several years ago, allowing addicts to inject drugs under medical supervision. The clinics provide clean needles, distilled water, filters and spoons and often allow addicts 30 minutes to inject and feel the effects of their dope. More recently, such cities as Sydney and Madrid have opened sites. Officials say the centers have helped to dramatically reduce crime and disease.Ann Livingston, project coordinator of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, an advocacy group better known by its acronym, VANDU, that is made up of intravenous drug users and former users, argues that safe injection centers would bring dignity to addicts. "At safe injection sites, the building is designed where there is an entryway and a bathroom and an actual place to shoot up further down," said Livingston, who is not a user. "A place to get the 'rigs' and light a candle and an exit from the building."Vancouver council member Bass said he prefers the term "clean injection sites.""People think, 'Oh, my God, they want to legalize drug use in Canada. They want to have safe injection sites.' They get very panicked," Bass said. "But right now we have safe injection sites. They are in the parks, lanes, cars and schools. The question is: Are there better sites?"Keeping Users 'Healthy'Earl Crow, president of VANDU, is in his office talking to a church group about the ravages of heroin and cocaine and his own struggle with addiction. He works part time in the office, as do other users. In return for light office work and alley patrols, they receive small, daily stipends. Drug use or former drug use are the only requirements for work here."Only users can speak for users," Crow says. He has long, blond hair. He was once a musician. Now he is an addict and president of an advocacy group for addicts. He says he kicked heroin addiction but still smokes crack cocaine. Each day he and other users from VANDU go out on the streets in patrols to hand out clean "rigs" -- needles and other paraphernalia. "The full works for a clean hit," Crow says. They also check users strung out on the streets, in parks, at bus stops and in alleys to make sure they are not overdosing and are feeling "healthy" -- as healthy as addicts can be."The quality of heroin is good in Vancouver. To try to withdraw is hell," Crow says, as he and Hennan walk down an Eastside street around noon. "I can't describe the pain in your body. . . . When you are wired, it's very hard to come down."Crow stops at the entrance to an alley along West Hastings. A brown thick liquid runs along the crevices in the brick pavement and into a drain. A tall woman in a white miniskirt and torn stockings scratches at her leg, then pokes in a needle. A man in a red sweat suit sits in the middle of the alley. Crow nudges him. The man gets up and puts his head down on a dumpster as if it were a pillow. "If they are just sleeping and breathing, we don't disturb them. If they are not breathing, we know training for CPR."Hennan is looking for any signs of an overdose. "People who OD on down [heroin], look like they are going to sleep while walking," Hennan says. "I OD'd about four times on heroin. One time, I paralyzed my leg. Four months later, I got my feelings back."The stench in the alley is like that of an overturned portable toilet. Orange needle caps litter the alley like cobblestones. The junkies do not move, or run, or hide. Instead they sit, some of them as if on their own thrones, working with their intricate vials and packages and needles, searching for veins."Can't you spare some money?" shouts a man who identifies himself as Scott. "You don't understand, lady. I'm in a lot of pain. I need morphine in my body." Up close, he has pink sores on his mouth and a thick, curly, black mane. He is staggering. He has lost his shirt and is about to lose his pants. There are scars on his bronze skin."This is like never-never land," Hennan says. A couple wearing shorts and carrying maps and a camera walk through the crowd of addicts.Crow stares at them. "Now that is stupid. They are crying out, 'Tourists!' People up there have razor blades that will sever anything. They would cut [the camera] off his neck. And he'll say, 'Why did they steal from me?' They are so obvious when you go around with $2,000 worth of camera equipment in a drug area. That's why.""It's like some people just want to be accidental tourists," Hennan says.Just then, Crow excuses himself. He says he needs to "score a down."Hennan tells him to wait until they stop working. But Crow says, "We are not working." Crow walks up to a man with dirty jeans. The man could be any vendor. Crow makes his transaction, then slides into a store and reappears."I want to make this clear. I purchased this down for my girlfriend," Crow says. "She is wired. She is sleeping, and when she wakes up she will be very sick. I have to have some down in the house. When you are wired, you might sleep three days straight. After a run, you are very hungry and very tired."He pulls his purchase from his pocket. It is a tiny envelope, no bigger than a half-inch, the size of a fingernail. The envelope is made from the orange paper used to wrap clean syringes. "It looks like baking soda," Crow says. "It's wrapped down like an envelope. It's easy to unfold." This "paper" cost him $10.Hennan asks him to put it away. "It's triggering me," he says.Note: Vancouver Seeks to Protect Addicts, Not Punish Them. Source: Washington Post (DC) Author: DeNeen L. Brown, Washington Post Foreign ServicePublished: Tuesday, August 21, 2001; Page A01 Copyright: 2001 The Washington Post Company Contact: letters Website: Related Articles & Web Site:Canadian Links for Addicts Works as Swiss Fix Method of Treatment for Drug Addiction
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Comment #5 posted by Doug on August 21, 2001 at 08:29:09 PT
Images and Truth
Why don't we ever see reports from "Skid Row" -- most towns have them -- describing the ramshakle appearance and unfocussed stare of the winos and alcoholics as they drink furniture polish or ingest some Sterno. It's not just "junkies" that lead desperate lives, and not all hard drugs users are like the ones they always report about in the articles and tv shows. And the problems are made  so much worse by illegality and  poverty.  No wonder everyone thinks drugs destroy the soul. If we had images of stock brokers doing heroin it would certainly changes people's preconceptions, but of course those images are not allowed.
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Comment #4 posted by dddd on August 21, 2001 at 07:38:27 PT
"Dawn of The Living Dead"
Good one Sam.....board up your houses,,,they'reroaming the streets!dddd
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Comment #3 posted by J.R. Bob Dobbs on August 21, 2001 at 07:27:05 PT
Prohibition makes things WORSE
  Don't forget, on that street, are people willing to sell you cocaine, heroin, or cannabis in $10 increments. Unlike the Dutch policy - where cannabis sales are controlled and separated from hard drugs - kids under this chaotic prohibition-induced economy don't learn that there are big differences between China White and Skunk #5... at least not from the government.  Kids, before you decide to ingest any substance not prescribed for you by a doctor, please read every unbiased report you can get your hands on and think for yourself!
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Comment #2 posted by Sam Adams on August 21, 2001 at 06:37:32 PT
It's always WORSE over there......
Here we go again - the American media loves to point out how terrible things are happening elsewhere. "17,000 junkies roam the streets of the Vancover". I got news for ya pal - Baltimore, 1 hour north of the reporter's house in DC - has 40,000-45,000 junkies. I don't know if they're "roaming the streets" or not though......what BS, sounds like "dawn of the living dead" or something. So someone's using a new needle...who cares? How many alcholics use a bottle and glass and then go home and terrorize their wife & kids? I guess that's okay, because they're at home, not "roaming the streets"........
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Comment #1 posted by Digit on August 20, 2001 at 22:50:20 PT:
Supply&Demand... the name of the game
yep, dem drug laws sure are working. aint u happy we keeping the streets clean? boy i'm glad everything is just soooooo super!Hasn't everyone figured it out yet? The drug laws don't work. The Junkies aren't criminals (not by being a junkie anyway). The Junkies are victims. The Politicians are the criminals.The old saying "no Victim no crime" applies to cannabis cause theres no victim. it applies to herroine cos there are victims... lots of em... made victims by the politicians and their laws and throwing money at the problems without thinking where and why its going there, by the dealers (many of whom are victims demselves), and most importantly victims of lack of education.fix the laws, to stop the fixes. They shouldn't be outlawed, it just increases the problem. These people are in need of desperate help. desperate help.
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