Recent Articles

Recent Comments

« | Main | »

No easy answers to downtown’s drug “problem”

By Hempology | October 12, 2002

From the Victoria News, October 11, 2002

By Brennan Clarke

When it comes to dealing with problems related to intravenous drug use, concerned residents often call for
increased effort from police and city bylaw officials.

But for the people who deal directly with Victoria’s IV drug community, stepping up enforcement is a band-aid
solution that does little to address the root of the problem.

“IV drug use, in my opinion, is an illness and it needs to be treated as such,” said Sgt. Darren Laur, who has
close to 10 years of street-level policing experience in Victoria.

“Until we have the support systems and the medical help in place, it’s not going to get any better. You can
throw as much enforcement as you want at this problem in the downtown core and it’s not going to fix the problem.”

In recent weeks, a number of Fernwood residents have joined forces to address what they see as a growing IV drug
problem in their neighbourhood.

But the city of Victoria’s social planner, Wendy Zink, said the problem is not just Fernwood’s.

“I don’t know if (IV drug use) is increasing, but it’s definitely more evident than it was,” she said.

“It seems to have moved and become more open. People reporting injection drug use in parkades and alcoves and
downtown back alleys, around Centennial Square and the industrial area between Douglas and Bay streets.”

Noting that the number of reports started increasing “six or eight months ago”, Zink suggested that a shortage may
have forced more IV drug users onto the street.

“Certainly Victoria has a lack of affordable shelter and a low vacancy rate,” she said.

“The market became very tight in May, June and July, around the same time we noticed this change.”

Laur, however, stressed that visible IV drug users form a small percentage of the overall population.

“We have to be careful about not to pigeonhole these people,” he said. “People tend to associate IV drug use with
the street population and I can tell you from my experience many of them hold down jobs and wear business suits. You
would never guess they are addicts.”

“I would argue that a lot of the needles you see downtown are dropped by a core group of 12 to 14 hardcore drug users.”

Most of the discarded paraphernalia turns up within a “four or five- block radius around the corner of Douglas Street
and Pandora Avenue, which police refer to as “ground zero” for the sale and distribution of drugs.

Laur said the biggest change he’s noticed among IV drug users in Victoria is not so much an increase in overall
numbers, but a demographic shift toward younger addicts.

“I don’t think it’s increasing per se, but I’ve seen a spike in the age group where it’s more common to see
individuals in their mid to late teens that have an IV drug addiction,” he said. “There are now people downtown
who are 15 or 16. They’re selling and they’re also addicts. That’s a big change.”

Linda Poffenroth, deputy medical health officer for the Vancouver Island Health Region, estimated that Victoria is
home to between 1,500 and 2,000 IV drug users, but noted it’s difficult to accurately guage the scope of the problem.

“Obviously these are rough estimates – this isn’t a group of people where we can get a census. It’s mostly based
on anecdotal reports from people who have been here longer,” she said.

“I’ve been here six years and I’ve seen a real growth in injection drug use.

“For a city this size we certainly do have a lot of IV drug users. It’s certainly a significant problem.”

Canada should consider following the lead of European countries such as Germany, which provide addicts with safe
injection sites and health care services to help them kick the habit, Poffenroth said.

“Take a city like Frankfurt, where they have developed a community of care with safe injection sites that offer
nursing care and help addicts get something to eat and find a place to live,” she said.

“We haven’t done that in North America and I think it’s something we really need to look at.”

However, Poffenroth admitted that many Canadians still find the concept of safe injection sites difficult to accept.

“Part of the message we need to be getting across to people is that providing safe injection sites should not be
confused with condoning drug use,” she said. “It’s a very complicated issue. Since these activities are illegal,
people are stigmatized and marginalized.

“We have to recognize that people who are on drugs are ill.”

In recent months, Poffenroth said the IV drug problem seems to have shifted away from the downtown core.

“In the last six to eight months, addicts have moved out of downtown for a variety of reasons, and many of the people
selling the drugs have moved as well.”

Zink said the Victoria police policy of banning repeat offenders from the downtown “red zone,” may be part of the
reason for the shift.

Some Fernwood residents have also blamed the proliferation of discarded needles and other drug paraphernalia on the
recent relocation of Victoria’s needle exchange from downtown to Cormorant Street near the Victoria police station.

But Poffenroth suggested that the situation would be much worse without services like the needle exchange.

“If you talk to the needle exchange, they’ve been giving out and getting back about 500,000 rigs a year,” Poffenroth
said. “There’s a huge benefit to the community with addicts using that many clean needle and bringing back that many
dirty ones.”

Topics: Articles | Comments Off

Comments are closed.