The Canadian city where addicts are allowed to inject

published on August 7, 2017 by Robin Levinson-King in BBC News

As the opioid crisis spreads across North America, the Canadian city of Vancouver is pioneering a radical approach to drug treatment – let addicts use.

It’s “cheque day” in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, and people are feeling good. Having just cashed their monthly social assistance stipend, many residents have flocked to the local street market, where vendors peddle everything from bootlegged DVDs to handmade crafts.

But the marketplace is not the only place where money is changing hands. In the alleyways and squats that pepper the neighbourhood the drug economy is booming, and so are the overdoses.

“You come to work every day and you find out who has died,” says Sarah Blyth, a community advocate who runs the street market. “It is extremely depressing.”

Heroin has been a part of the Downtown Eastside for as long as most people can remember. By the 1990s, needle-sharing among drug users in the city led to “the most explosive epidemic of HIV ever observed outside of Sub-Saharan Africa,” according to Aids researcher Dr Thomas Kerr.

This early drug crisis led to the opening of North America’s first supervised injection site, Insite. Now, as an opioid epidemic spreads, the Downtown Eastside has become an incubator for a variety of out-of-the-box drug treatments.

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