Wednesday, Feb 9, 2022
Drug user activists commemorate 2021 overdose deaths by distributing a safer supply of heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine.
The ongoing drug poisoning deaths across BC and Canada has prompted yet another highlight on the importance of community-led safe supply initiatives.
Vancouver, BC - Drug user activists are distributing safer heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine to commemorate the 2224 British Columbians who died of overdose in 2021. This is a collaborative action by the Drug User Liberation Front (DULF) and the BC Association of People on Opiate Maintenance (BCAPOM), and it is taking place today at VANDU during a closed meeting for BCAPOM members. By giving away safer drugs, these groups are demonstrating the life-saving potential of a community-led response to the overdose crisis.
These distributed drugs were tested via mass spectrometry, FTIR spectrometry, and immunoassay, and are free of fentanyl, fentanyl analogues, benzodiazepines, and many other harmful adulterants.
Government “safe supply” and Opioid Agonist Treatment (OAT) are failing to meet the needs of many drug users in BC, as shown by last year’s record-breaking overdose deaths. BC Association of People on Opioid Maintenance (BCAPOM) members rely on medications, like methadone and Suboxone. But many of us are forced to continue using toxic street drugs. The “safe supply” and OAT systems are rigid, punitive and have failed to keep pace with this crisis.
BCAPOM has spent over a decade fighting to reform the OAT system in British Columbia. We've warned the government about barriers caused by private clinic fees, inferior methadone formulations, urine drug screening, the fetishizing of Suboxone by OAT prescribers, and more. All the while, our leaders and members keep dying. Even small reforms tend to get stalled or most doctors and their College refuse to implement them. The system is broken, government doesn’t want to fix it and we can’t seem to make them. Therefore, as an act of civil disobedience, we are offering our members a safer, tested alternative to street drugs, at no cost to them.
“We have a message for the government of BC: the coroners' body count is your report card and you get an F. We have lost confidence in you to deliver us from this apocalypse. So we are looking to our own ranks of activists for safe supply. We are breaking the law to try to keep each other safe. And we are calling on the BC Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and the Minister of Health to resign,” said Garth Mullins, board member of BCAPOM and host of Crackdown Podcast.
This action demonstrates that compassion clubs -- user-organized programs to distribute safe access to drugs -- are a common sense and rational response to drug poisoning deaths, and that the community of people who use drugs and their allies are willing to take the idea of safe supply from rhetoric to reality.
On August 31st 2021, DULF and VANDU submitted a legal exemption request to Health Canada to decriminalize all members affiliated with DULF’s project. To date, Health Canada has neither met with DULF nor addressed our exemption request. The aim of the project is to run a 200 person evaluative pilot of a user-driven Compassion Club, in conjunction with the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users. This compassion club would allow for the purchase of otherwise illicit substances - from legal providers if possible, or from illicit providers, if not - to be tested and redistributed to members of the club who are over the age of 18 and already using illicit substances.
The DULF Compassion Club aims to move the use of drugs outside of police-orientated and medicalized spheres to address it from a social standpoint. A true “safe supply” constitutes presently illegal drugs, sold legally, with a predictable content and consistency. Our model is not prescriber-based for the same reason it is generally beyond the bounds of the Hippocratic Oath for a doctor to prescribe a bottle of scotch; a doctor is there to tend to your physical health according to their discipline. Moreover, we agree that chaotic patterns of substance use have harmful outcomes for users. Public education and reducing trauma in our communities are critical factors to keeping rates of chaotic use down, but the forces perpetuating such trauma are systemic and any real change will take many years. In the meantime, drug users are dying - year after year - at rates that exceed the ravages of COVID-19 even at its height.
We call on every leader in British Columbia and Canada to listen to people who use drugs and live up to their responsibility to stop the drug war’s senseless cycle of death. Our demands are the following:
All levels of government must immediately fund programs for safe and accessible supplies of all drugs, including cocaine, heroin, and crystal meth, by directly listening to user groups and people who use drugs, and covering these drugs under Provincial Health Insurance by adding them to the formularies, or allow us to create routes of access ourselves.
All levels of government must immediately develop an accessible legal framework that decriminalizes, licenses, funds, and provides facility spaces for heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine compassion clubs.
All government commissions on drug policy, safe supply, and decriminalization must include meaningful representation from drug user groups. Nothing about us without us.
It is with profound frustration and unimaginable grief, we share this message to provincial and federal government officials: Step up and address the issues that are killing us or allow us access to the resources and funds to do it ourselves, outside of the constraints of this discriminatory structure.
About Drug Users Liberation Front
Formed in response to the ever-mounting overdose deaths in British Columbia and across Canada, the Drug User Liberation Front looks to provide tangible solutions to this devastating crisis. We are an organized collective of people who use drugs empowered to make change through direct action, courage and conviction, and fuelled by the memories of the countless friends, families, and loved ones whose lives have been taken by an unjust, broken system of laws and policies.
About BC Association of People on Opiate Maintenance
The British Columbia Association of People on Opiate Maintenance (BCAPOM) was originally formed in 1999 by a group of people on methadone, but we now include people on all forms of opiate maintenance. Our mission is to support, protect and defend opiate maintenance users’ rights to live free from obstacles caused by prejudice and stigma. BCAPOM educates people about methadone and prescription opiates, and the fight for fair and just access to the opiate medication of our choosing. Our BCAPOM meetings are a place where you can meet people who face the same issues and work together to improve the system for all.
About the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users
The Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) was formed in 1998 to bring together groups of people who use drugs. VANDU is committed to increasing the capacity of people who use illicit drugs to live healthy and productive lives. We do this by affirming and strengthening people who use illicit drugs to reduce harms both to themselves and their communities.