Wed. May 18th, 2022

The council voted unanimously in favor of an amended proposal for support for the club, which is seeking federal approval

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The city of Vancouver voted unanimously to support a peer-led program that would help bring about a safe supply of medication to people at high risk for overdose in Downtown Eastside.

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Coun. Jean Swanson called for the approval of North America’s first pity club, which gives members access to prescription heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine, in a council proposal this week.

Swanson said that given the overdose crisis caused by contaminated street drugs, federal approval is needed for the project run by the Drug User Liberation Front, which has already teamed up with the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users to host for gifts of drugs purchased from the dark web – “so they are not arrested to save lives.”

Two Vancouver councilors initially expressed concern about the groups buying illegal drugs online, saying it could contribute to criminal networks.

“Do you acknowledge that you are supporting organized crime with the illegal product you are buying?” Coun. Melissa De Genova asked Liberation Front co-founders Jeremy Kalicum and Eris Nyx.

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“In fact, we’re asking for Vancouver’s blessing so we no longer have to buy from the illegal markets,” replied Nyx, a community organizer and DTES resident.

Coun. Lisa Dominato said experts told that online drug purchases may be linked to terrorism and gang activity elsewhere.

‘These drugs go to people who would already buy them on the street. We are trying to reduce the harm from it, ”said Kalicum, an addiction researcher and former drug researcher with the BC Center on Substance Use.

Eventually, Swanson’s proposal was changed to include the condition that the club receive their supply from a legal source “that does not benefit organized crime.”

The group already had support from Vancouver Coastal Health, and 48 speakers ran for council council to support the Compassionate Club, including numerous health workers and advocates of DTES.

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One of them was Greg Fresz from VANDU. The 68-year-old started using heroin five decades ago after the death of his brother.

“An exception like the one we request would ensure that I do not have to risk being arrested or overdosing every time I go to cope with my own pain,” Fresz said.

When the Liberation Front first began working with volunteers to reduce injuries in May 2020, Nyx believed that their overdose prevention strategy, if proven, would encourage the city to implement more comprehensive forms of safe supply.

As recently as July, organization members tested, labeled, and distributed free 3.5-gram samples of illegal drugs outside a Vancouver police building. They have spent close to $ 15,000 so far, drawn from crowdfunding and their own bank accounts.

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“Of the 1,000 total packages we have issued, zero overdoses have been reported,” Nyx said in an interview.

“We did not think we were going to keep doing this,” Kalicum admitted.

Members of the Drug User Liberation Front and the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users hand out a secure supply of drugs to members of the DTES community.  (Francis Georgian / Postmedia)
Members of the Drug User Liberation Front and the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users hand out a secure supply of drugs to members of the DTES community. (Francis Georgian / Postmedia)

In 2019, the BC Center on Substance Use recommended compassion clubs “urgently made” with one or more initial test sites established in neighborhoods with large overdose morbidity and mortality, such as Downtown Eastside, “in a report stating such an initiative could” immediately reduce the number of fentanyl-related deaths. “

As of July 31, there had been 1,204 deaths this year in BC due to drug toxicity, including extreme concentrations of fentanyl and carfentanil detected by post-mortem tests. BC is on track to eclipse 2020’s record high of 1,734 fatal overdoses.

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“Every day I open my email for messages from people in DTES saying, ‘Help me, I’m dying without a secure supply,’ but we do not sell drugs,” Nyx said. “We gave them away to show the government how life-saving a secure supply would be.”

“Many people in the community have already asked us to be their drug supplier,” Kalicum added.

The Liberation Front submitted a proposal to the Federal Government in August. If the Compassion Club is approved, 40 adult VANDU members would consume medication along with their peers while analyzing their health and social outcomes, according to Swanson’s proposal. A number of safety precautions will be taken, including safe storage of substances on site and an overview of doses dispensed.

The proposed model for safe supply is inspired by cannabis sympathy clubs in Vancouver that emerged in the 1980s and 90s to help deal with pain for those infected with the AIDS epidemic.

Similarly, a Liberation Front-run “compassion club would help keep people alive and functioning, available to navigate disturbed drug use and seek rehabilitation,” Kalicum said.

sgrochowski@postmedia.com

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