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Eastside needs detox, not arrests: drug cop

By Hempology | September 24, 2002

City’s top enforcement officer cites failure of drug laws against
law of supply and demand

From the Vancouver Sun, September 19, 2002

By Pamela Fayerman

Vancouver’s top drug
cop says it often seems
hopeless trying to cut
off the supply of illicit
drugs when trafficking is
as profitable as it is, so
finding ways to prevent
and treat addiction is
the best hope for the
Downtown Eastside.

“We can not arrest our
way out of the drug
problem,” Inspector
Kash Heed told
participants Wednesday
at a two-day symposium
exploring ways to
handle the city’s drug

In his tongue-in-cheek
assessment of the drug
business, Heed,
commanding officer of
the police department’s
vice and drug section,
said if the drug industry
was not illegal, there
would be much to admire about it.

“To start, it is highly profitable. It produces goods for a small
fraction of the price its customers are willing to pay. It clearly
takes advantage of the globalization of the economy and
skillfully responds to changing markets and distribution routes.

“It is global, but dispersed, built on a high level of trust,
marketing its wares to the young without spending anything on
conventional advertising. It brings rewards to some poorer
countries and employs many of the world’s disadvantaged and
unskilled. Unfortunately, I am not talking about Nike. I’m
describing the world’s drug industry.”

To illustrate how profitable the drug trade is, Heed said the
price paid to a Pakistani farmer growing opium is $90 a kilo.

When it gets to North America, the wholesale price is $80,000
a kilo, and on the street, with purity diluted by half, the retail
price is $290,000 a kilo.

Heed said many police leaders are reluctant to discuss such
issues and they worry about losing the power to arrest people
should Canada’s drug laws become more liberal.

“Any police leader who advocates more liberal drug laws or
approaches risks being pictured as favouring drug use,” he

While drug abuse wrecks lives and health and fuels crime,
Heed said cutting off the supply often seems hopeless
because there is always another dealer to fill the gap from the
one who gets busted.

“Our priority is to stop the threats to public order and safety,”
he said, noting that despite the best intentions of law
enforcement agencies, nothing has worked to reduce supply
and demand.

He estimates that 5,000 of the city’s hardest drug addicts
commit half the crimes in the downtown area.

Like most other speakers at the symposium at Simon Fraser
University’s Morris Wosk Centre for Dialogue, Heed agreed
more emphasis should be placed on health services for addicts
and treatment resources for detoxification.

“Asking an addict to be patient and wait for an available slot
for detoxification and treatment is simply a waste of time,” he
said. “The crisis will pass and the addict will simply pick up their
usual habits. The opportunity to intervene will be lost and the
addict will view the system as useless and ineffective,” Heed

While Vancouver’s future drug strategy has focused on such
things as safe injection sites and heroin by prescription, Dr.
Michael O’Shaughnessy, director of the B.C. Centre for
Excellence in HIV/AIDS, based at St. Paul’s Hospital, said
there is still a paucity of scientific study to show whether such
strategies will have a positive effect.

A Swiss study on a heroin and methadone replacement
program showed positive results but did so with poor scientific
design, and a Dutch study has not yet been published in a
peer-reviewed journal, he said.

In his presentation, Evan Wood, a researcher in
O’Shaughnessy’s program, said making safe injection sites
available would likely control health care costs by reducing
infectious disease and overdoses.

Wood’s sobering synopsis of the effects of the Downtown
Eastside drug problem showed that:

Sun Health Issues Reporter

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