VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, or VANDU, is a 3,000-member advocacy group celebrating its 20th anniversary this month. Here’s a list of highlights:
— 1997: Drug users led by community activists hold first meeting at a park, where they later plant 1,000 white crosses to recognize deaths of drug users in the Downtown Eastside.
— 1998: VANDU secures funding from a health authority and is incorporated under the Society Act in British Columbia. Members meet weekly through the year.
— 2000: Members set up 2,000 wooden crosses at a park to acknowledge HIV deaths in the Downtown Eastside. Co-founder Ann Livingston helps establish Pivot Legal Society to assist drug users without access to legal support.
— 2001: Members present a mock coffin to then mayor Philip Owen during a council meeting to highlight one death daily from HIV and overdoses in the Downtown Eastside.
— 2002: Human Rights Watch awards VANDU 2002 Canadian Award for Action on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights. Then deputy police chief apologizes to VANDU for false statements that the group was involved in drug trafficking at its needle exchange table three months after officers had raided table and shut it down.
— 2003: VANDU celebrates opening of Insite, North America’s first supervised injection site, which would later become the subject of a successful court battle aimed at keeping the facility open as Conservative government fought to close it down.
— 2004: Members speak in Leeds, England, at second national conference on injection drug use.
— 2005: VANDU creates injection support team to help people who can’t inject themselves, with funding from the Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS.
— 2007: Members launch housing campaign for residents in the Downtown Eastside.
— 2010: Members develop manifesto for a “liberation movement,” recognizing criminalization and poverty as key problems, along with need for housing, health care and decision-making power in policies affecting their drug use.
— 2011: The Kaiser Foundation chooses VANDU as recipient of Excellence in Community Programming awarded the group $10,000 for a recognized charity of its choice.
— 2016: VANDU receives commendation from Vancouver Fire and Rescue for using overdose-reversing drug naloxone to save lives.
— 2017: VANDU members are invited to join European addiction experts meeting in Vancouver to address overdose deaths.