I spent a good portion of my day trying to get a clear answer out of the City of Vancouver, BC Liberals, BC NDP and BC Green Party concerning an inquiry into their strategies for solving the Fentanyl Epidemic in BC. Representatives from each group repeated the same formulaic rhetoric about “harm reduction” strategies and improving mental health institutions, failing to hear me when I stated that these slow moving bureaucratic institutions will mean little to those in need if people keep dying at the rate they are. Fentanyl is not heroin, it is not a drug that lends itself to harm reduction, it is flat out killing people. There is no way to manage Fentanyl use by an addict because in the de-regulated world of street drugs if a person unknowingly receives it, they can likely end up dead. Clean needles don’t make a difference. It is a random strike upon the user, with no warning signs.
To put this crisis in perspective: in 2016 in New Orleans, a murder center of the USA where there are plenty of hand guns and assault weapons, there were 175 murders. In BC we had 914 overdose deaths. At a certain point we must call a spade a spade, this is no longer just a mental health and #addiction crisis: it is mass murder. Yet our politicians only plan is to lean on the strategies and techniques used to combat HIV/Aids which were pioneered in the Downtown East Side in the 1990’s. When pressed our leadership quotes the phrase “harm reduction” as if it erases the reality of Vancouver’s open air drug market and puts criminals behind bars. I agree that harm reduction centers are still required and that mental health institutions are of paramount importance for people in need of them but this is 2017, and our society needs new methodologies to combat the source of the problem. The Drug trade has changed. Over the past 25 years The City of Vancouver and the #Province has allowed for a climate of illegal drugs and their street level distribution to become normalized to the point where #VPD perceptibly spend more time having coffee in Yaletown or breaking up independent art shows and underground venues than they do actually arresting those responsible for the deaths of so many of our citizens. The #RCMP flat out refuses to present to the public with any angle of their strategy for dismantling these criminal institutions, only appearing when they have drugs on the table to show us so we can hail the conquering heroes. This egregious failure to act is almost as offensive as the lack of validation for the concerns of the public. Stats show that there are less than a hundred drinking and driving related deaths in BC annually, yet massive amounts of municipal, provincial and federal resources are put into road blocks, breathalyzers, and the prosecution of drunk drivers. When street racing became a problem in the early 00’s the BC Provincial government overhauled the entire licensing system of BC to prevent irresponsible youth from getting into car crashes. It has been a year and we have nothing from our leaders. 914 overdoses. 914 dead. 914 people, family members, nieces, nephews, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters. Canadians.
During the April 26th televised BC Provincial Leaders Debate on #CBC the topic of Fentanyl was given 2 minutes and not a single candidate brought up the role of law enforcement in preventing the current crisis that BC faces. Instead of a comprehensive plan to arrest the importers and distributors of street drugs, the City of Vancouver has recently released plans to increase taxes on citizens to raise an additional $3.5 million per year to build a new Community Police Center in Strathcona, as well as funding noxalone training and other initiatives that have yet to be defined. The Non Partisan Association, the minority opposition to Gregor Robertson’s Vision Vancouver, does not support this tax increase because they are unsure that throwing money and old strategies at the problem will be able to solve it, potentially just becoming another bureaucratic public money pit. What will a new Policing Center matter if Police aren’t arresting anyone or gathering detailed information dossiers on the neighborhood or criminals themselves? And if they are, why can’t they tell us that is what they are doing? What good will Noxolone do in stopping the lethal drug from getting into the hands of addicts who, let us not forget, are the mentally ill? Vancouver paramedics are run off their feet, facing over hundreds of overdose calls a week, feeling futility in their jobs saving lives of addicts who are likely to overdose again. This methodology is a waste of our public servants time and efforts, as well as a waste of taxpayer money. The strategies of harm reduction were not designed to reduce the harm of a drug like this, and our electorate needs to take heed of that and recognize that this is a lethal epidemic deserving of their priority. We need leaders who do not shy away from scary subjects like crime, for ignoring it does not make it go away.
Odds are you know someone who died of a Fentanyl overdose, or at very least you know someone who knew someone and you feel the climate of fear that exists on the streets of Vancouver. Too long have the institutions of illegal drug distribution gone unchecked and now it is costing hundreds of people, many who are not addicts, their lives. It is time for Law enforcement of the City of Vancouver, the Province of BC and the Federal Government to be accountable to it’s citizens and take action in pursuing, arresting and judiciously prosecuting those that continue to exploit the most vulnerable in our society as well as those who sought solace from their troubles in a very depressing place. The victims of these crimes were hurting no one but themselves, their very desire for heavy opiates a result of our societal failure to address the mental health of those most in need of healing. We treat mental health and addiction like the disease, it is not. These sad bedfellows of the human condition are the symptoms of the horrible infection of crime and economic disparity that has infested itself in the lower mainland of BC. Economic disparity cannot be simply attacked, that is where middle class citizens require true “harm reduction”. However the importers and distributors of these drugs are murderers and it’s time they were treated as such. If it’s not possible for our establishments of law enforcement to peruse and prosecute these criminals, then maybe we as a society need to change our drug laws and the environment of prohibition that fosters such criminal institutions and their black market economy.
I believe a clear message needs to be sent to Vancouver City Hall, Victoria and Ottawa to let them know that this streak of deaths needs to be an immediate priority for the secure future of British Columbians and Canadians. I have been trying for weeks to get an adequate response from any of these offices of government or the potential candidates who represent them, and my voice has fallen on deaf ears or been presented with empty platitudes. So maybe if enough people read and share this status our voices will be heard together. I am tired of our elected body playing petty party politics and economic roulette with our future while those charged with protecting us pick and choose the policing of out dated laws and by-laws while ignoring us and the most vulnerable in our society. This not a matter of politics, it’s a matter of life and death.