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19 Jul 2017

Drug users share ideas to fix fentanyl crisis

Rafferty Baker, CBC News


CBC News asked street drug users in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside their opinions on what might reduce the number of people succumbing to fatal opioid overdoses.

Give users access to clean, predictable drugs

Danielle Trudeau, 43, has been addicted to drugs for 25 years. In that time Trudeau has overdosed about 15 times — but 10 of those overdoses happened in the past three months.

She said two things could help improve the situation: access to affordable housing and access to clean, predictable drugs.

Trudeau said users have a hard time distinguishing what drugs they're consuming. 

"This stuff keeps changing colour all the time, so you know, you can't keep on top of it, the stuff that's overdosing everybody," said Trudeau, who uses heroin.

"It used to be all one colour, now it's changing colour and just when we all start to get used to what dose we can take, it changes again."

Get people into housing and fund more treatment

Kevin Muchikekwanape's four years in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside have left him with little hope of fixing the overdose crisis, but he highlights a few common issues for people in his position.

Being able to afford a place to live is a challenge on welfare, he said. And then there's the difficulty getting into treatment programs.

"You can get into detox very easily," said Muchikekwanape, 42, adding that after a week of being clean, he just ends up back on the street where he started, doing heroin.

"I tried getting funding for recovery to go to a treatment centre, and I tried my [First Nations] band, Indian Affairs, I tried welfare, I tried everywhere to get funding and I couldn't get it … and I wanted it," he said.


Get addiction services into small communities

Charlotte Morris, 42, came to the Downtown Eastside from the small northern B.C. community of Burns Lake. Morris said that there weren't enough opioid addiction treatment services there to help her.

"Bring a doctor to the small communities once a month or something, so the patients don't have to travel to the cities, because that's where the relapses are prone to happen," she said.

"It's hard for me to leave my family. I get pretty lonely and I feel like that's when I want to use, because I miss them so much," said Morris through tears. "If I'm high, I'm not thinking about my family then it's not as bad."


Get fentanyl off the streets

The biggest problem is bad drugs on the street, according to Irene Mountain, 56.

"Sometimes I worry and my husband tells me, 'Irene, it's like you're playing Russian roulette,' " Mountain said.

"I would start with getting rid of the fentanyl and, I know it's a pain medication, but people shouldn't use it," she said. "Ban it."

Mountain said doctors should prescribe legal drugs to addicts who need them, and the authorities should do more to prevent illegal drugs like fentanyl from being imported to Canada.

"The RCMP and the other police are not really doing anything about this," she said.


Stop marginalizing drug users

Daniel James Beaverstock, 41, is frightened by the drugs people now find on the street. Beaverstock said dealers claim they're selling heroin with no fentanyl in it, but people keep having bad overdoses.

He has survived 30 overdoses, including six cardiac arrests.

But Beaverstock said the marginalization of drug users is a huge contributor to the overdose crisis.

"Maybe stop making a group of people feel like they're outcasts, that they're undesirables, that they're throwaways," he said.

"Make them feel like, they too are human. You know, these are people's sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles and so on," he said.

"That's what makes me want to use. Once I get into that feeling of hopelessness, then that's it. I just throw in the towel."


Change the way drug users are treated at hospitals

​For Kelli Lubbers, 38, who uses heroin and methamphetamine, the problem is the lack of enforcement when it comes to keeping fentanyl out of Canada.

"I think more needs to be done on that," Lubbers said.

She added that a lot of people like her don't trust doctors and the medical system. She says people won't get things like abscesses and infections treated, because they aren't treated respectfully.

"I won't go to a hospital. Like, I will not go, unless I'm unconscious."


Provide prescription drugs for addicts

Linda Morin, 63, uses crack cocaine. Morin wants to see drugs legalized and provided by doctors, saying clean, safe substances would greatly reduce fatal overdoses.

The solution, she said, is for the government to open more places that dispense prescription opioids.

"That eliminates a lot about the crime and dealers for that, and [it's] more, safe. Ten times, 100, 200 times [safer]," she said.

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