Why Vancouver Has Always Been an Addiction Ground Zero

published on July 13, 2017 by Sarah Berman in VICE

Breaking down the city’s contradictory reputations as the epicentre of an overdose “bloodbath” and a beacon of progressive drug policy.

Amid North America’s worst drug overdose crisis in decades, Vancouver has cultivated two distinct and seemingly contradictory reputations.

On one hand, the city’s known to be ahead of the curve on progressive drug policy€”always adopting the latest harm reduction practices and testing new addiction treatments. On the other hand, it’s suffered more drug panics than any other Canadian city, and has a reputation for higher-than-average drug use and addiction rates. Vancouver is simultaneously a place the globe looks to for drug policy guidance, and a cautionary tale of recurring out-of-control epidemics.

Neither of these reputations are new, of course. Vancouver was the first city in North America to open a supervised injection site in 2003. And its history of drug panics spans a full century.

This has led many outside Vancouver to assume new drug policy developments are somehow a contributor to the crisis – that safe injection sites and similar harm reduction practices actually encourage more users. But if you ask the doctors and researchers who have been studying the city’s drug waves for decades, this is a categorically false narrative that goes against a near century of history. Experts told VICE Vancouver has long been an international drug distribution hub, and that reactionary criminalization efforts, as well as failing social policies, have created a concentrated underclass of marginalized drug users.

“Vancouver has always had a high diversity of drugs and a potent supply of drugs,” Dr. Thomas Kerr, associate director of the BC Centre on Substance Use, told VICE. Kerr says many port cities around the world are known for “alarming” levels of drug use, in part because the dope is so strong.

View the full article