The war against drugs has failed to prevent a steep increase in the use of crack cocaine and crystal methamphetamine in Vancouver in the last 10 years, according to a study released Tuesday.
Researchers also found continued easy access to the highly addictive drugs and a high mortality rate among needle users because of HIV infection.
The study was done by the Urban Health Research Initiative at the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS.
Drug-user HIV rate still high
The authors told a Vancouver news conference there has been a dramatic reduction in the sharing of syringes and in drug-injection rates, but a high mortality rate remained because of long-term HIV infection.
One expert involved in the research said harm-reduction programs work but they need to be expanded.
"Namely, the supervised injection facility," Dr. Evan Wood said. "But also … we need a greater dialogue about inhalation facilities."
Advocates of supervised drug-taking centres such as the InSite injection facility on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside have argued for a similar site for the safe use of cocaine.
Call for return of four-pillar policy
The high mortality rate for HIV-infected people, Wood said, is the price paid for past inaction.
Ottawa should never have abandoned the four-pillars approach, a policy adopted by the City of Vancouver in 2001. The policy named prevention, treatment, enforcement and harm reduction as the keys to successfully dealing with the use of street drugs.
"That massive undertaking was thrown out the window," Wood said. "From a scientific perspective, that is a massive flushing of taxpayers' dollars down the toilet."
Wood said police must exercise their enforcement role but criminalizing users and arresting traffickers — who are simply replaced by others — has not proved to be the answer.
November 24, 2009