Category Archives: politics

Crisis becomes us

In reports about the 2019 BC coroners report on illicit drug toxicity events the emphasis has been on the decrease in deaths of about one-third province-wide. However the number of calls for an EMS response to an overdose have gone slightly up. And those calls are an undercount of events, as often overdoses are responded to without a 911 call.

But, fewer deaths. 981. 19 per 100,000. 5,010 since 2016.

why? how? yes, harm reduction is in effect. In December 2016 the BC Health Minister Terry Lake signed a order authorizing overdose prevention services. Of course that’s quite a euphemism: overdoses happen frequently. But someone had eyes on you and brought you back. Thousands of deaths have been prevented. Would anything be different now if they were called Death Prevention Sites?

Now, there are many such sites, except where people don’t want them, or regional health authorities won’t fund them. Yes, not having that happen is the purpose of declaring a Public Health Emergency.

Another mitigating factor is the non-opiate contamination in the mix: benzodiazepines, cannabinoids, veterinary tranquilizers… a wide range of psychoactive substances in the supply which can produce what Dr. Kendall describes as a “traumatic brain injury that will last a lifetime.” Young people, rendered psychotic by the poison sludge, wander the streets for days or weeks and die in unspeakable ways. These losses are not counted in this report.

This isn’t about fentanyl, and it’s an opioid crisis only at the moment.

The decrease is not due to everyone already being dead. There isn’t a finite pool of users; the pipeline to the coast is open and flowing.

Not Dead Is Not Enough

A brief comparison of the comments made by the province’s leading Health officials and the statement released by the minister of mental health and addictions might be helpful to illustrate where precisely the problem lies. 

The coroner’s report, Illicit Drug Toxicity Deaths, is accurately titled, but it’s an enumeration of just that: deaths, rather than catastrophic events. The situation is not actually improving; the supply is continuing to degrade. This is the part of the Coroner’s statement that I stared at intently:

“͞Collectively, we continue to urge for greater access to safe supply for those in our community who are experiencing, and struggling to live with, substance use disorder.”

and noted that it’s not “struggling with substance use” but “struggling to live with substance use.” It’s living that’s the issue here (and disorder is really subjective).

Provincial Public Health Officer Dr Bonnie Henry (who submitted a special report to the provincial legislature under the authority of the Public Health Act last March called Stopping The Harm which recommended the decriminalization of people who use drugs and therein thoughtfully provided our elected leaders with several options for doing so, all within their jurisdictional purview – the report was aggressively ignored and its recommendations were never debated in the legislature) stated:

“ And in the meantime, we need to change our approach so that people who use drugs are able to seek help without the fear of being charged criminally and with access to a pharmaceutical alternative, instead of what is clearly a toxic street-drug supply.”

And Dr Perry Kendall, who declared the emergency almost four years ago:

“We must also acknowledge that overdoses are still occurring at an equal or greater rate than ever as a result of the toxic drug supply, posing a significant public health threat that will impact a generation of British Columbians.

Lives are being saved, but saving lives alone is not nearly enough. We must now turn our attention toward implementing strategies to prevent overdoses from occurring in the first place — which must start with a legally regulated drug supply.”

Legally regulated, as if drugs were pop or lettuce or ridesharing or busking or banking or housing. OR DRUGS. Here’s the problem we seem to be encountering:

We know how to do this. Stop saying that individuals need help with their problems when our problem is a political massacre a generation in the making, driven by a century of prohibition. And rather than recognizing our collective moral imperative to address it directly, people complain that the corpses are bad for business.

Minister of Mental Health & Addictions, Judy Darcy:

“I want to extend my deepest gratitude to first responders, peers, families, health-care professionals and community workers who are dealing with the deeply emotional toll of doing everything they can to save lives and connect people to care time and time again. Our province owes you a debt we can never repay. 

“The way we act and speak can make a life-changing difference for someone who is living with addiction, to find a pathway to hope and to healing. We cannot afford to stop caring. It really will take all hands on deck to stem this terrible tide and reduce the stigma that leads to so many people using and dying alone. 

“As we look to the year ahead, we will continue to work closely with and listen to the valuable advice of our partners, including people with lived experience to save lives and build a better, more connected continuum of care options for people living with addiction.” 

Two separate issues are being avoided interchangeably here – individual struggles shouldn’t be confused with the tide of death, and the solutions are distinct. The solutions for the second thing are safe supply, decriminalizing the person, restructuring social assistance into guaranteed income, and rapidly expanding public housing.

This deathspiral was not your creation, but it’s your responsibility now.

Minister of Health, Adrian Dix

“…..”

(that is to say, he said nothing.)

levelling

on coroner’s update day, december 2019

i was at a meeting and a health authority person said “the numbers are leveling off” and i didnt let myself flinch because i didnt want to leave the room to exhale and i had to say “those numbers are human lives. people. your numbers are of the dead. numbers numb.”

at a different meeting a policeman said “the prevention sites are consistently full, the same,” and i said “you do realize that these are Different people, right? because 600+ people have died in two years in these few blocks.” #DTES

more than that obviously. there are many ways of dying but always of injustice. all these fragile bonds that held us barely together are frayed and torn and arent coming back

and people are throwing each other liferafts and waterwings in a sea of poison. from a boat made of duct tape. and the boat is on fire.

this is a vision of your future which is why you cant bear to look

its an emergency, you know

will you let people die at this unacceptable rate because its better than before? as long as its contained in this place that you can scare the disobedient with? the purpose of structural violence is to enforce structural power – its victims must be visible, and silent

because the rest of you must FEAR

so what will you do?

these are some towns in #bcpoli with by-laws criminalizing poverty – the persecution and hate are real. there is no place to go. down the road and west.

but the numbers are steady here. the demographic is younger.

i dont think people can take much more of this.

not dead is not enough

all in

this is a cage again

All the recommendations from the task force passed -unanimously, as is, no amendments. So the safe supply statement has been adopted by council:

“….we are all in this together.

Urgent action is required on multiple levels to prevent further deaths from drug poisoning. This includes advocating for a safe supply as well as supporting people in their chosen paths to wellness. We call upon health professionals, all levels of governments, and the public to join us in advocating for a safe supply of drugs, to protect and prevent further loss of our family members, friends, neighbours and loved ones.”

its really important that its “we” and “us”. its not Those People, or The Most Vulnerable. #SafeSupply isnt a competition. and stop building ‘models’. actually meeting people where they are can be really particular, and whoever is more comfortable will probably need to step out of their comfort zone. we are in this together. everybody keep six.

[what about decrim? that is also up to us. the substance itself – its a nothing. there’s a magic moral value attached to druuuuuugs, which is a direct consequence of many political choices intended to coerce, divide, dispossess, impoverish, terrify and imprison the vast majority of humanity – all those unwealthy, unwhite, unobeying, unfamilied, and so on. very little to do with Drugs; the war on drugs is itself the weapon.

because an illicit economy is unregulated, concentrated capitalism. it is the War of All Against All. its a cautionary metaphor, the Downtown Eastside, for those stepping dangerously out of line, or those so wounded and scarred by o canada’s systemic structural violence that the World Out There cannot bear to look, and you become unhumaned. shit happens. how’d you wind up down here?

turns out living in someone else’s metaphor sucks.

now friends are stealing from friends, bro from bro. as assistance remain the same, living gets more expensive, OH NO its Gentrification (hint : we are the gentry. look around, and look at where the old dope, the plant-based stuff, was/is produced. YEAH WE’RE THE GENTRY, GET YOUR HEAD OUT OF YOUR ASS.)

as we get poorer, the supply becomes more degraded in the sense that there’s less actual [synthetic chemical compound] opioid. so people are out, and not high. its benzos. we’re full circle back to everyone in the neighbourhood being slammed with psych meds. except they’re made in a garage somewhere and bought online. in a few decades people will get their shit and know their dope because they will be able to customize a compound of choice and it will come out of a 3-D printer, but all of us will be dead.

we are all in this together.

what we dont have is shared knowledge. we have to know our dope. “fentanyl drug checking” completely misses the point and again is a Blame the Drug reaction, magical thinking. again, its prohibition that makes the green stuff deadly but this other green is the thing. or which is horse tranquilizer, or bathtub benzos, all of it bunk. for fucks sake.

the price on the street is the same because down here people are not only poor, but trapped. and angry, because people cant get high. because its not dope. all you know is that you’re trapped. the idea was Rat Park, but it’s clearly a cage again. and everybody knows it.

safe supply means a chance to put the brakes on this cycle (The Deathspiral, is what i call it). of course there will be druuuuugs on the street. but we have this moment – probably a brief moment – to decriminalize ourselves, to self-regulate our economy. we must decommodify dope. no one will do this for us. we cannot Demand it of anyone but ourselves.

for years we’ve all heard “this is how it is down here.”

that is not true. that is a choice. and this choice is ours now.

it does not have to be this way. not at all.

COPE, with harm reduction

two days out, final reviews of parties on overdose-related and other drug policy issues. didn’t want to have to do this. I haven’t heard or read anything to indicate a serious understanding of this issue from COPE: The Coalition of Progressive Electors. Others have asked for thoughts, reached out, asked questions, developed solid ideas. this platform has less than what the city is doing now. in Factual Reality. it’s less than what Gregor has done. that is a fact. it’s clear they have no idea what has been done, and what is being done now.

i have tried to convey these concerns privately. but critique, disagreement, whatever, is always taken as an *attack*. I worked with Jean for years, and Wendy Pedersen same. this document tells me that you have not taken any time to understand this issue seriously. you don’t know the facts. your statistics are incorrect. and they aren’t “just numbers.” there is zero meaningful engagement with the complexity of this massacre.

because-too-many

their platform is heavy on traditional COPE specials like “stuff that is already happening” and “stuff that the city doesn’t have the authority to do” and empty symbolism

the fact that you clearly haven’t read a word I’ve written or paid any attention to anything i’ve done for the last 16 months or whatever stings a bit. but the fact that you present this naive, ideologically-driven (yeah, science, fact, evidence, and experience are much better) retrograde policy to the public, and our city, our neighbours (the ones who aren’t dead) (yet) does not trouble me. it angers me.

I have waited as long as possible. but I won’t sit here and let this go silently (because “the cause”). there’s nothing left or progressive about this. more people will die. I don’t give a shit what you think your ideology says about that.

sure it hurts. but if Jean Swanson & others are elected saturday, others will be hurt more.