HEALTH Task force calls for more ac­tion

The Georgia Straight - - Health - By Photo by Travis Lupick

ATravis Lupick

ma­jor re­port on Van­cou­ver’s over­dose epi­demic states that five years into the cri­sis, there is no end in sight. “De­spite con­certed ef­forts by gov­ern­ment and com­mu­nity part­ners,” the re­port be­gins, “Van­cou­ver con­tin­ues to be se­verely im­pacted by the con­ver­gence of a long-stand­ing men­tal health and ad­dic­tions cri­sis and in­creas­ingly po­tent and toxic drug sup­ply.”

The city’s rate of over­dose deaths stands at 58 per 100,000 people. That’s high enough to rank Van­cou­ver along­side the worst-af­fected ar­eas of the United States.

The doc­u­ment is sched­uled to go to coun­cil on Thurs­day (De­cem­ber 20). It is the first ma­jor prod­uct of the Mayor’s Over­dose Emer­gency Task Force, a body that Van­cou­ver’s new mayor, Kennedy Ste­wart, es­tab­lished shortly af­ter he was elected to of­fice last Oc­to­ber.

Although most of Van­cou­ver’s fa­tal over­doses con­tinue to oc­cur in the Down­town East­side, the ra­tio of over­dose calls to fa­tal over­doses is sig­nif­i­cantly wider there than in most other ar­eas of Van­cou­ver, the re­port notes.

In the Down­town East­side, there are 27 over­dose calls for ev­ery one fa­tal over­dose; in neigh­bour­ing Grand­view-wood­land, there are 38 over­dose calls for each over­dose death.

This sug­gests that the harm­re­duc­tion pro­grams de­ployed there— su­per­vised-con­sump­tion sites, for ex­am­ple, and outreach teams trained in over­dose re­sponse—ap­pear to be do­ing their jobs.

Mean­while, in Kit­si­lano, there are 18 calls for ev­ery one death. In Fairview, there are 11; in Mount Pleas­ant, there are 13; and in South Cam­bie–ri­ley Park, there are 12.

In Kens­ing­ton, though, a com­mu­nity that in­cludes a con­cen­tra­tion of sur­vival sex work­ers along Kingsway, there are just four over­dose calls for each over­dose death. That has prompted spe­cial at­ten­tion from the city. “The gap in ser­vices and pro­grams in this area has cre­ated bar­ri­ers to ac­cess­ing ser­vices and sup­port for sur­vival sex work­ers, many of whom are af­fected by the opi­oid over­dose cri­sis,” the re­port reads.

It re­peat­edly rec­om­mends that harm-re­duc­tion pro­grams that have proven ef­fec­tive in sav­ing lives in the Down­town East­side ex­pand into other ar­eas of the city.

For ex­am­ple, dur­ing the win­ter of 2016, sup­port­ive-hous­ing providers such as Atira Women’s Re­source So­ci­ety, the Port­land Ho­tel So­ci­ety (PHS), and Raincity Hous­ing in­te­grated su­per­vised-con­sump­tion spa­ces for drug users, es­sen­tially de­crim­i­nal­iz­ing drugs in­side their build­ings. This has had the ef­fect of re­duc­ing stigma and pro­mot­ing safer prac­tices for us­ing drugs. City staff have now rec­om­mended that other non­prof­it­hous­ing providers and pri­vately owned build­ings copy those ex­am­ples.

The re­port also rec­om­mends the city work with pro­vin­cial part­ners, in­clud­ing the B.C. Cen­tre for Dis­ease Con­trol (BCCDC), to make clean pre­scrip­tion drugs avail­able to people ad­dicted to opi­oids who are risk­ing their lives with fentanyl on the streets.

In a tele­phone in­ter­view, Jor­dan West­fall, pres­i­dent of the Cana­dian As­so­ci­a­tion of People Who Use Drugs (CAPUD), de­scribed the re­port as en­cour­ag­ing, but he crit­i­cized the re­view for fail­ing to de­vote much at­ten­tion to how polic­ing and the crim­i­nal­iza­tion of ad­dic­tion are ex­ac­er­bat­ing the cri­sis.

“We are very dis­ap­pointed the city still re­fuses to dis­cuss the role that the VPD plays in wors­en­ing the over­dose cri­sis,” West­fall said.

As of De­cem­ber 16, there had been 353 fa­tal over­doses in the city of Van­cou­ver dur­ing 2018. That com­pares to 367 dur­ing all of 2017. From 2001 to 2010, the av­er­age num­ber of fa­tal over­doses in Van­cou­ver each year was 57.

Karen Ward is a for­mer Van­cou­ver Area Net­work of Drug Users (VANDU) board mem­ber and more re­cently has served as a con­sul­tant on drug use for the BCCDC. She crit­i­cized the re­port for a lack of ur­gency.

“It does not ac­knowl­edge that the con­stant state of emer­gency in this neigh­bour­hood [the Down­town East­side] needs to end,” Ward told the Straight. “It im­plies that the sta­tus quo in this neigh­bour­hood is fine, and it is not.”

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