The Vancouver City Council voted Thursday to back “compassionate clubs” in providing safer drugs to drug users in the city.
The motion, which was passed unanimously, will see the city approve an application from the Drug User Liberation Front and the Vancouver Area Network of drug users for a federal exemption from the Controlled Substances and Substances Act.
The groups seek to make use of the same legal exemption from Canadian drug laws that enabled Insite, Canada’s first supervised injection site, to function.
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Coun. Jean Swanson, who brought the proposal to the council, said the initiative was a realistic measure to deal with the deaths from toxic substances in BC
“It’s the biggest killer for young people under 40,” she said. “We have to stop it. There are six people a day; it is too much.”
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More than 1,000 people died in BC in the first half of the year on suspicion of illegal drug toxicity, according to the BC Coroner Service, and the number of deaths has increased dramatically since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Compassion Club model was historically used to distribute marijuana to people with cancer and other chronic pain conditions before legalizing cannabis.
In this case, it is centered around a peer-led facility that sells pharmaceutical-grade drugs such as heroin, cocaine or methamphetamine to drug users over the age of 18.
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The proposal was amended to insist that the drugs be purchased from a legal source.
The concept is part of the broader push for “safe supply” of street medicine that has been backed by researchers, public health officials and even the BC government, amid rising deaths from toxic substances.
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But Swanson said the way the county is currently willing to offer access to clean drugs – by prescribing street medicine alternatives – is not working.
“Their methods of delivering it do not work for everyone, they only work for a small minority of people,” she said.
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“We must save lives. If you look at all the people who supported the proposal yesterday, it was people who use drugs who are experts in this, it was doctors who treat people who use drugs, it was researchers who studied drug use and what happens, they were community groups creating programs that serve drug users. Vancouver Coastal Health supported this plan. ”
Along with backing the § 56 application, Thursday’s proposal will see Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart write to the federal government and express his support.
Stewart is scheduled to meet with federal officials Monday, and Swanson said he is also expected to raise the issue at that time.
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