The Secret Housing Program Giving Safe Drugs to Addicted Residents

published on February 5, 2018 by Travis Lupick in VICE

Vancouver’s Portland Hotel Society has been quietly running an opioid substitution program for more than a year.

On the ground floor of an old hotel in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, Paul Scibak recounted what it’s like waking up with an addiction to heroin. It’s a crippling shot of anxiety the second you open your eyes, he told VICE.

“You literally feel like you’re being ripped apart. Your skin’s peeling, you bones are breaking, your muscles are cramping…. Waking up and not having your dose there, that’s a painful experience.”

For three decades, Scibak said that nearly every morning, he rushed to get dressed, raced out the door, and did whatever he had to for his first fix of the day. He committed crimes and went to jail more than once. There were always hassles with dealers.

“The average addict is using anywhere from $20 to $100 a day. That’s baseline for their heroin addiction. And that’s a lot of money to come up with,” Scibak continued. “So you’re breaking into cars, you’re stealing from stores, you’re mugging people, you’re doing whatever it takes to get that cash. And so you’re constantly under pressure from police.”

Then fentanyl arrived and things got worse. Scibak’s addiction became “a game of Russian roulette.”

Until last month, when his life changed entirely in less than a week.

One morning, Scibak opened his eyes and the anxiety was gone. Instead of rushing out for drugs, he blinked sleepily a few times, remained in bed for a minute, and then took a lazy start to the day. Scibak made a cup of coffee and read the news online for a little bit. Simple pleasures that he once regarded as luxuries impossibly beyond his reach.

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