Downtown Eastside drug users call VPD's request for $700,000 testing facility "wasteful and unnecessary"

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      A group of Downtown Eastside drug users has said it will send members to City Hall today (December 6) to speak against a budget increase that's requested by the Vancouver Police Department (VPD).

      “The City of Vancouver keeps pouring money into policing when our communities need economic and social supports not more police,” said Aiyanas Ormond, an organizer with the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), quoted in a media release.

      “We are over-policed and under-protected," he continued there. "More funding for police means more criminalization for us. Ormond accused the Vancouver police of “continuing the failed war on drugs policies, even in the context of a horrible overdose epidemic.”

      VANDU—which celebrates its twentieth anniversary this year—is taking specific issue with $700,000 that the VPD wants for a “drug containment facility”.

      “A $700,000 drug containment facility is wasteful and unnecessary,” Ormond said. “A July 2017 statement by the American College of Medical Toxicology states that the risk of clinically significant exposure to fentanyl for emergency responders is extremely low….Drugs are being tested for fentanyl by health care providers on a daily basis without such costly and unnecessary infrastructure.”

      According to a November 27 VPD letter submitted to city council, the force says it requires the new facility “for members to handle evidence and/or materials that could be in contact with a opioid”.

      It’s stated there that $500,000 would be spent to “design and renovate space within an existing police building” and that $200,000 would go to “purchase equipment, office furniture, and other items required to fully outfit the drug containment facility”.

      Since 2012, the synthetic-opioid fentanyl has been responsible with a growing number of fatal overdoses in B.C.

      According to a November 2017 report by the B.C. Coroners Service, fentanyl was associated with 12 deaths in 2012, 91 in 2014, 666 last year, and now 914 deaths during the first nine months of 2017.

      In recent months, there have been several media reports of a police officer overdosing after touching fentanyl. For example, a May 2017 headline from CNN read, “Police officer overdoses after brushing fentanyl powder off his uniform.” However, experts have often called into question the accuracy of those sorts of stories.

      A November 2017 report by Global News, for example, was framed as a “reality check” on the claim that a person can die simply from touching fentanyl. It quoted Dr. Hance Clarke, medical director of Toronto General Hospital’s pain research unit.

      “This concept of death by touching a powdered substance is incredibly far-fetched,” Clarke said.

      VANDU vice-president Hugh Lampkin is quoted in the organization's release arguing that the $700,000 could be better spent elsewhere in Vancouver’s response to the drug crisis.

      “We need public education, health services and economic supports, not more police,” he said. “This money could be put toward services to help people who use drugs survive this OD epidemic. It could be used for real drug education and support programs for young people. It could be used for housing or other economic supports for our communities.”

      The VPD’s total budget for 2018 is $285 million. That represents a 4.2-percent increase ($11.5 million) over its 2017 budget. The police force is estimated to account for 22 percent of the City of Vancouver’s total operating budget for 2018.

      The Vancouver Police Board approved its 2018 budget on November 23. The document has since gone to city council.