Beyond harm reduction

published on February 10, 2017 by Andrea Woo in The Globe and Mail

Sixteen years after Vancouver formally adopted a ‘four pillars’ approach to drug strategy, the city – and the province – finds itself in the grip of an overdose crisis, reports Andrea Woo

Melody Cooper throws a purple ball across the well-worn grass at the East Vancouver dog park, sending her dog, Squeak, bounding across the field. The Jack Russell-poodle cross is wearing a camouflage coat, pulled taut by a belly that jiggles with each bound.

“I didn’t realize how much weight he had gained until recently,” Ms. Cooper says, watching the dog from her seat on a park bench. “My mother pointed it out. She said, ‘Look at him: When he lies on his side, two of his feet are still dangling in the air.'”

She smiles, breathing in the crisp winter air. Life these days is decidedly calmer for Ms. Cooper, who is one of just 30 people in Canada using hydromorphone to treat her long-time addiction. A recent Vancouver study found the pain medication to be an effective replacement therapy for an opioid dependency and, outside of the clinic where that study was conducted, she is the first person to receive the treatment.

It has turned her life around, she says.

More than 900 people died of illicit drug overdoses in this province last year – the highest such death toll on record. The powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl was confirmed in around 60 per cent of these deaths, and carfentanil – an animal tranquilizer many times more toxic than even fentanyl – is suspected in a recent surge of overdose deaths.

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