Larry Newman

Does that headline wake you up? How about this one in The Tyee, a free newspaper in B.C.: For one day, BC activists handed out clean heroin and cocaine?

I received permission from Robyn Smith, Editor-in-chief of The Tyee, to copy verbatim some parts of the article which was written by Jen St. Denis. Tyee is the indigenous name for Chinook Salmon, a native fish.

I’ve written about the illegal drug situation in Ottawa in IMAGE this past year. There were two reasons: The first was the establishment of a Supervised Consumption Site at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre with the expected increase of drug users and dealers into Sandy Hill. The second reason was to shine some light on the details of illegal drug sale, consumption, and treatment. Supporting the sale of safe opioids to drug users was the topic of my last article in the 2021 April-May issue.

Now, we will hear about free drugs in Vancouver —

“Illicit drugs are usually bought in the shadows, and then often consumed alone. But as Canada’s black market drug supply has become increasingly tainted with unstable mixes of fentanyl and benzodiazepines [tranquilizers], both are increasingly deadly activities.

“The protest came as British Columbia entered its fifth year of a public health emergency because of rising deaths due to poisoned drugs. The group, the Drug User Liberation Front, staged a similar event last year.

“At Dunlevy and Hastings Streets, members of the Drug User Liberation Front set up a table and gave out heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine in small cardboard boxes. The boxes were clearly labelled with what was in the drugs and at what percentage— for instance, ’40 per cent heroin, 60 per cent caffeine.’

“The group said the drugs had been tested before distribution and did not contain ‘fentanyl, fentanyl analogues, benzodiazepines and many other harmful cuts, buffs or adulterants.’

“Mary, a Downtown Eastside resident who picked up a box of heroin, said she had overdosed several times. She marvelled at the small box in her hand, with its label showing what exactly she would be taking. ‘We don’t do heroin  —  it’s fentanyl down here, or whatever somebody makes us in a bathtub,’ she said.

“Mary has tried prescribed safe supply in the past, but it hadn’t worked for her because her doctor was not allowed to increase the dose of her prescribed opioid.

“Scott Joinson said he’d never had unadulterated cocaine, and he wanted to know what it was like. He said he had overdosed several times.

“‘If it was done with government backing, then we would know what’s in our drugs. If it was sold in stores, people would know as consenting adults,’ he said. ‘Take a look at what’s going on — the black market is forcing us to take adulterants, which is killing us.’

“Eris Nyx, one of the organizers of the event, said the drug handout was limited to people over 18 who already use illicit drugs. ‘The group bought the clean drugs on the internet using cryptocurrency’, she said.”

Bonnie Henry, BC Provincial Health Officer, in 2019, wrote, “The decriminalization of people who are in possession of drugs for personal use is the next logical and responsible step we must take to keep people alive and connect them to the health and social supports they need.”

Well said, Ms. Henry.

—with notes from Jen St. Denis of The Tyee

Activists gathered Wednesday in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside neighbourhood to show how bringing drug use into the light could help save lives.
Photo The Tyee