The radical change Vancouver activists say will end the country’s opioid crisis
Except for a long line at the barbecue, where hungry older folk wait for a free meal, most people have left Oppenheimer Park for the day. But not Jim McLeod, who’s clutching a hot dog wrinkled with the cold, so engrossed in telling me his story that he’s forgotten about his dinner. It’s late February and we’re standing in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, the epicentre of Canada’s overdose crisis, talking about harm reduction—two words very much in vogue.
“You don’t bounce back from torture,” McLeod says almost casually, wind whipping tendrils of his long hair into a frenzy. He tells me that past trauma has much to do with his morphine use today. “I’m wired to it,” he says. “I use it daily because I’ve had physical pain most of my life.”
Having a safe place to use drugs is only part of the solution. Supplying medical-grade heroin means opiate users know exactly what they’re getting and helps severely dependent users lead more fulfilling lives, giving them the time and peace of mind to pursue activities other than drug-seeking. In Vancouver, about 100 patients receive heroin daily from Providence Health Care’s Crosstown Clinic, which opened in 2011. “[It’s] a sanctuary for those people,” says activist and Crosstown patient Dave Murray. “You ask any one of them and they’ll tell you they might not be alive today if it hadn’t been for the clinic.”
Malone Mullin reports