Drink and Drugs News DDN February 2020 - Page 8

HARM REDUCTION A GLIMPSE OF THE Canada’s opioid crisis may be less reported than that in the US, but the effects have been devastating. Is this where we are headed, asks Jussi Grut, and if so what can we learn from the country’s response? 8 • DRINK AND DRUGS NEWS • FEBRUARY 2020 B ritish Columbia, the province in which Vancouver is the largest city, totalled 1,155 opioid related overdose deaths in 2018. This was the highest in Canada despite having a population less than half the size of Ontario, Canada’s most populated province. Almost 400 of the British Columbia deaths occurred in the City of Vancouver, with most of these people residing in an area called the Downtown Eastside. The Downtown Eastside of Vancouver is a place that can seem intimidating to outsiders, with people openly taking illicit drugs alongside makeshift markets where residents lay out their few possessions on blankets to sell for a bit of extra cash. These misconceptions about this relatively small community could not be further from the truth, but before I go into further detail some context needs to be provided about North America’s battle with drug addiction as a whole. While the opioid problem in the US continues to make headlines across the world, a similar but contrasting crisis is taking place above its northern border. Canada, a country that for many conjures images of snow-capped mountains, never-ending forests and a history of peace and inclusiveness, is the last place many outsiders would expect to have a drug problem comparable to that of the United States, but the country is struggling to deal with serious problems of addiction. The origins of the situations are different, despite having a very similar outcome. The USA’s problem started with the over-prescription of opiates such as OxyContin – with doctors reassured by pharmaceutical companies and medical societies that the risk of addiction with these pain drugs was very low – and was exacerbated by pharma companies promoting use of these drugs for non-cancer patients. After attempts by government to limit the amount of prescription opiates being distributed, without putting in place proper infrastructure to help those now addicted, the amount of readily available drugs accessible through diversion decreased. This effectively forced those who developed an addiction to turn to illicit sources such as street heroin, and deaths due to heroin-related overdose went up by 286 per cent between 2002 and 2013. Top left: Residents lay out their few possessions on blankets to sell for extra cash. Top: The Downtown Eastside in Vancouver is a place that can seem intimidating to outsiders, with people openly taking drugs. Above: Insite, Vancouver’s first government sanctioned supervised consumption site. Credit: Jussi Grut and Insite, www.phs.ca WWW.DRINKANDDRUGSNEWS.COM