All posts by k ward

It’s NOT an opioid crisis

It is not an opioid crisis! The changes we seek are not about a class of drug. This about prohibition & racist drug policy that justifies its existence by punishing people already suffering under the conditions it has created; its a weapon of the structures that must be unmade.

That’s why this is structural violence. It’s not drugs: people are dying from drug policy.

Drug policy is an expression of state power, and COVID amplifies.

But it is NOT an opioid crisis in every possible sense! Let me explain…

Category Error: these deaths were caused by prohibition & criminalization & are all drug policy-related. we can stop these deaths by regulating drugs & addressing this social disaster directly with housing for all, liveable incomes, medicine (Safe Supply), and ways to get out of this cycle. This is not about a class of drugs. this is about drug policy, and this is what happens when a policy becomes detached from the reality it was intended to address, and reforms are attempted by people who have no idea what is going on.

Last year, a huge number of people – around SEVEN THOUSAND – died in canada because the drugs they consumed were produced for an unregulated market. all the supply chains were disrupted by covid and maybe the government should have bailed out the illicit economy too. these disruptions led to dramatic changes in the composition of the supply (btw the drug supply in Ontario is distinct from that in BC and Alberta, clearly from completely different sources. who knows re: prairies, no drug checking), and not ONE big change. its been inconsistent since March, which is the problem. if you use down, and you get a product that is mostly benzos for a few weeks, and then the opioid returns, your tolerance will have decreased and why am i telling you this, you’re dead.

To return to this “stimulant-related deaths” bullshit – a made-up category suddenly introduced LAST MONTH by Health Canada – and “what bullshit is this” i said at the time: because this is a serious and intentional misrepresentation and reframing of the crisis formerly known as the “opioid crisis” by the federal government, a retcon: a BRAND NEW CATEGORY of a cause of death by a category of drugs, invented in 2020, but killing since … 2018? what? so the numbers for “opioid overdoses” went down but this new category was added and what’s really being measured here, when

and its even acknowledged that this is the case:

“Data on apparent opioid toxicity deaths and stimulant toxicity de aths are not mutually exclusive. A high proportion of deaths involving a stimulant also involved an opioid. Adding up those numbers would result in an overestimation of the burden of opioids and stimulants.”

Apparent Opioid- and Stimulant-related deaths, PHAC 2020

We all know that the feature shared by these killer opioids and stimulants is that theyre prohibited substances that are available on the unregulated market – but placing these into separate categories misses the point. its not the drug, its drug policy.

There is some irony in calling these Controlled Drugs and Substances.

It’s not this drug or that: its prohibition. Not only is it true that people use more than one drug (ie people mix), this is the illicit market, NOBODY KNOWS WHAT THEY’RE PUTTING IN THEIR BODY so every drug user is a polysubstance user.

not the legal and prescribed ones but including alcohol

so the distinction between classes of drug is false. drugs is drugs and dead is dead. this distinction makes the data – the count of our dead – meaningless. and wrong.

So don’t call it an opioid crisis. Call it a Social Massacre, or a Poisoning Emergency, or a Mass Execution by Poison. Start setting your own terms.


but its not a silver bullet!

have you ever heard such a nonsensical objection to a proposed policy reform? “Oh if its not a single-point solution, we’re not going to bother trying.”

decriminalization is necessary to enable the rest of the solution.

nobody needs to hear any more about what decriminalization should NOT be, that it should not be with dissuasion panels, not with cops, not like Portugal or another place. let’s talk about what it could, and should be, figure out how to get there, and then do it. imagine: instead of being against something horrible, we’re going to work FOR something we imagine, and win.

and this is not only about us as people who use drugs: through our connections to larger movements, our movement (when successful) will dissolve. because in fact decriminalization is about Black Lives Matter and defunding the police, not about consolidating the carceral state. the police must not be involved (yes they can go decriminalize themselves) in defining or deciding what decriminalization means! its through public discourse that we will reduce discrimination and bring people in. just by talking about these things, our lives, openly.


  • stop centring ourselves, this is a social/political issue that impacts everyone
  • emphasize the economic sinkhole of criminalization
  • the drug war is racist, and a consequence of colonialism. defund the police.
  • safe supply does decriminalize. thats why we ask doctors – among the most powerful people in cdn society – to step up for us and prescribe. to defy the aura of criminal association.
  • when people object to the possibility of profound social change, thats how you know its necessary.
  • nothing about prohibition, the drug war, criminalization – none of this is natural or inevitable or necessary. its our world, lets change it. 
  • STOP TALKING ABOUT YOURSELF. talk about the impacts on the people you’re trying to convince. talk about the public interest – how even non-criminalized people will benefit from a decriminalized society.
zooming in and out on a werewolf! caption: its not a silver bullet.... or IS it?

i’m tired of having to say that drug users should be at the centre of this and set the terms. that shouldnt need to be said. meet us where we’re at. catch up.

a public discussion is itself a process of decriminalization, since the goal is for drug users to simply be part of the public. to become boring regular people – rather than Those People. that’s the goal.

as long as users continue to be Those People, our deaths (and lives) aren’t real and nothing will change.

we don’t want compassion : we need the public to see themselves in us, to identify with us. not a brother, cousin, mother, or son. but to see us (the living) as themselves.

we need to do everything we can to bridge that gap too. what Decriminalization will look like is up to us.

a Decriminalized Vancouver is not a solution to a nationwide catastrophe. we know this, and this is not an I-Got-Mine Hail Mary to the endzone or an empty symbolic gesture. the federal government wasn’t about to do anything without significant pressure; what we did was create a pressure point, and made a window. we will keep on pushing. we must all continue to generate momentum, any way you can – have a discussion group, an educational or dialogue session, or a poster campaign, connect with each other, catch each other up. we need to push from the inside and the outside, and find new angles and ways. and start now! no one is coming to save us, and there is no Them: its just us.


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