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Vancouver's mayor backs 'idea' of heroin compassion clubs

Last Updated Feb 22, 2019 at 6:50 am PDT

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Vancouver’s mayor is endorsing the ‘idea’ of giving drug addicts a steady supply of heroin, saying he’s all for thinking outside the box when it comes to saving lives.

Kennedy Stewart is responding to a new report from the BC Centre on Substance Use that is proposing “heroin compassion clubs” as a way to be sure people addicted to opioids are getting legal and clean heroin.

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The report says legally-regulated sales could put an end to daily overdoses linked to the deadly drug fentanyl.

“Some of the best doctors in the world, putting their heads together and saying we should try this, so for me, I’m open to these ideas,” he says.

Stewart says the level of addiction is through the roof, with the report indicating there’s a high level of addiction in Vancouver.

“Just gotta keep you up at night thinking about the potential for disaster on top of what we’re seeing now with almost a death a day. Even though we’re putting all these resources in, we still haven’t had a real impact on reducing deaths,” he says.

Police Chief Adam Palmer says he also supports innovative ideas, but he needs more time to review plans for so-called compassion clubs proposed by the BC Centre on Substance Use.

Opioid program would have strict requirements to join

BC Centre on Substance Use says the model would have a strict eligibility assessment for people who are addicted to opioids who could buy heroin from a program.

The report argues the restricted and legal sale of uncontaminated heroin to drug users would make headway in the ongoing fentanyl crisis, which has been considered a public health emergency since 2016.

“Reduce fentanyl overdose deaths and if done right, should reduce the rate of opioid addiction in British Columbia,” says Executive Director Evan Wood.

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The BC Centre on Substance Use says an additional benefit of heroin compassion clubs is the dent it would make to organized crime.

“A kilogram of fentanyl can be ordered over the internet at relatively low risk and inexpensively and it’s worth about $10 million when sold on the street,” says Wood.

“Where that profit, instead of going to organized crime would go into health and social services for opioid addiction.”

The program is based on cannabis compassion clubs that emerged during the AIDS crisis. In order to get a heroin compassion club up and running, the federal government would have to make an exemption under the controlled drug and substances act, which Wood says has already happened for the heroin prescription program running in the Downtown Eastside.

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“This would be facilitated by mechanisms that already exist within the federal government and expect that we would have support form the provincial government and potentially the municipal government in Vancouver to get a trial like this going,” Wood says.

“When a pilot like this gets off the ground I think we’ll see quite quickly that the sky doesn’t fall in and that this is a model that again really can improve public health and safety for all British Columbians.”

BC’s Health Minister Judy Darcy says she’s looking into the report, but adds the introduction of such a program would fall to the federal government.

“With 4 people a day dying still in British Columbia we are escalating our response every day, every month, every single day,” she told reporters at the Legislature.

“This is a very new proposal, our focus is on working with health care professionals.”

About 1,500 people died in BC last year from an illicit drug overdose with fentanyl detected in 85% of those deaths.