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  1. BA
    DESPITE 'SAFE' SITES
    Province (28 Nov 2004)

    Addiction: I Blame Government For Our Huge Drug Problem

    I know that, according to a big, new government-funded survey, illegal drug use in Canada has doubled in the past decade. But, I still wonder what Vancouver's politicians and bureaucrats have been smoking lately.

    In September, they were crowing about the alleged success of the so-called safe-injection site -- Mayor Larry Campbell's big election plank -- in reducing overdose deaths and the harm from injection-drug use.

    Now we learn from Vancouver Courier reporter Mike Howell that, for the first nine months of 2004, the number of Vancouverites who died of drug overdoses has actually risen -- from 41 in 2003 to 44 this year.

    And that may surprise Lower Mainland taxpayers. After all, self-congratulatory government do-gooders have consistently championed the hype that funding the multimillion-dollar injection site would mean salvation for Downtown Eastside druggies.

    That hasn't happened, of course. And police are still tripping over the same poor, drug-addicted and mentally ill souls in needle-riddled downtown alleys, hallways and stairwells.

    Campbell, also the police board chairman, could not be reached for comment Friday. Nor could the city's drug policy co-ordinator, Donald Macpherson.

    But Const. Tom Stamatakis, the Vancouver police union president, told me that he hasn't seen any real evidence that the 14-month-old drug-injection site has had any impact.

    "In fact, some will suggest that, by establishing a site like that, what we're doing is we're enabling it [drug use]," he said. "And maybe that's why we have more overdose deaths."

    What the East Hastings drug site has done, Stamatakis adds, is make downtown law-enforcement even more difficult for police by creating a whole new tolerance for law-breaking.

    "I think we're now dealing with this sense of entitlement," he explained.

    "You have people here who are often engaged in criminal activity to get the money to buy their drugs. And the police are having to deal with this attitude of 'Hey, man, quit bugging me, can't you see I'm going to go use my drugs in the safe-injection site?'"

    Illegal drug-taking, in other words, has become a government-sanctioned "right." And to hell with those poor saps ripped off in the process.

    Campbell, meanwhile, stated in a letter to the Courier that he's "completely perplexed" by Stamatakis's conclusion. The mayor accuses him of a "crude analysis that would never stand up to scientific scrutiny."

    Myself, I'm partial to crude analysis. Certainly, I'm skeptical of the "sophisticated" analysis presented by government-funded doctors and spin doctors who, I believe, are often completely biased in their conclusions.

    Indeed, I'm convinced that foolhardy, feel-good government funding is to blame for a great portion of our city's humungous drug problem.

    Stamatakis noted how he'd read that there were 170 agencies in the Downtown Eastside dependent on one level of government or other. "It's almost become an industry that's created lots of employment for a lot of people, and lots of bureaucracy," he said. "It almost seems at times that we're more worried about keeping that going than we are about helping the people down here who really need the help."

    I couldn't have said it better myself.

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