Vancouver councillor, advocacy groups distribute drugs to highlight toxic drug supply concerns

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — In hopes to highlight the deadly toxic drug supply in B.C., a Vancouver city councillor helped hand out a free safe supply of meth, heroin and cocaine to users Wednesday on the Downtown Eastside.

This year, between January and May, 851 people died from illicit drugs — the most ever reported in the first five months of a calendar year.

While Health Canada has agreed to start formal discussions with the City of Vancouver on its plan to decriminalize the simple possession of illicit drugs, demands for a safe supply continue to be made.

“When you look at all the things that government has done around COVID — eviction ban, closing businesses, stopping travel, and then you look at what they’ve done to stop the poisoned drug crisis — there is no comparison,” Coun. Jean Swanson tells NEWS 1130. “What we need is to ramp up the efforts to stop people dying from poisoned drugs. And the main thing we need is a safe supply of drugs.”

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Swanson says she was invited by a pair of drug user advocacy groups, Drug User Liberation Front (DULF) and the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), and joined them to hand out free drugs that had been pre-tested to make sure they didn’t contain any toxic substances like benzodiazepines or fentanyl. These were distributed outside the Vancouver Police Department’s detachment on the Downtown Eastside.

A statement reads that the purpose of the handout is to “raise awareness of the deeply flawed aspects of the Vancouver Model of decriminalization, including disproportionate influence of the Vancouver Police Department, unreasonably low drug thresholds, and lack of provisions for safe supply.”

“If these folks at VANDU and DULF can get together safe drugs and give them out free. So there’s no reason why a government with billions in revenue can’t do the same thing,” Swanson adds.

According to both advocacy groups, the proposed”Vancouver model” model for decriminalization limits are dangerously low and don’t conform with actual patterns of drug use.”

The two groups add the city’s plan lacks an exemption for community-led compassion clubs for the distribution of safe supply and excludes drug users from meaningful participation in drug policy development.

To address the issue, DULF, VANDU and Swanson say the City of Vancouver and Health Canada need to permit “us the legal sanctioning to do it ourselves, outside of the constraints of this discriminatory structure.”

On Thursday, the B.C. government is set to deliver an initiative connected to safe supply. However, Swanson says she’s hoping the plans are not too “bureaucratic, and that everyone will have access to it, and to the drugs that they need.”

Swanson says, she’s not too optimistic adding she will continue to push for safe supply access.

“I think the important thing is we shouldn’t have precious human beings dying every day because of poisoned drugs. There is a way and the way to end it is by having a safe supply. Governments could do that. They could do it today. And they should.”

Earlier this year, the provincial government announced safe prescription drugs can be provided to people who use substances however Swanson says there continue to be barriers in place.

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The Vancouver mayor’s proposal has received the support of advocates from the Overdose Prevention Society, Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, Vancouver’s police chief, as well as the PIVOT Legal Society.

The city must go through the federal government to request a federal exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act if it is to decriminalize simple possession.

If successful, this would not be the first of firsts for Vancouver and Canada. The city became the first city in the country to get a Health Canada exemption to open up a supervised injection site in 2003.

B.C. declared a public health emergency in the spring of 2016 due to the rising number of overdose deaths.

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