Travis Lupick and Ann Livingston will discuss lessons from a previous Vancouver overdose crisis

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      The opioid crisis was B.C.'s most horrific news story of 2017, with 1,208 deaths occurring in the first 10 months from illicit-drug overdoses.

      That was nearly double the 683 deaths over the same period in 2016 and three times the number of illicit-drug overdose fatalities in the first 10 months of 2015.

      Georgia Straight staff writer Travis Lupick has been on the frontlines of this story, covering its devastating impact across the Lower Mainland.

      On Thursday (January 11), he'll be at the Vancouver Public Library central branch to talk about his new book, Fighting for Space: How a Group of Drug Users Transformed One City's Struggle with Addiction.

      “By now people know that Vancouver and all of North America are in the grips of an overdose epidemic," Lupick said. "But not everyone is aware that Vancouver has been through this sort of crisis before.

      "In the 1990s, drug overdoses killed hundreds and then thousands of people in Vancouver. And the city responded in really incredible ways. Politicians listened to the demands of drug users and that’s how we got the continent’s first supervised-injection facility, Insite. We need to understand that solutions to the crisis of the '90s came from the drug users themselves and today we need to listen to them again."

      Lupick will be joined by Downtown Eastside harm-reduction advocate Ann Livingston, who has been promoting innovative and compassionate ways to combat overdose crises since the early 1990s. Livingston is featured prominently in Fighting for Space.

      “Vancouver’s overdose epidemic of the '90s was terrible but it was nothing compared to what the city faces today," Lupick said. "The arrival of fentanyl requires a radical response—legalization, I argue—but we’re not yet having that discussion.

      "In Fighting for Space, I recount how Downtown Eastside activists marched in the streets to force politicians to change how we respond to the challenge of addiction," he continued. "It was a political war that took nearly two decades but the activists eventually won and today Vancouver is championed for pioneering harm reduction. At the library on Thursday, we’ll talk about where those activists are today, what roles they’ve taken on since fentanyl arrived, and what these drug users and their allies argue must happen now to begin to reduce overdose deaths.”

      The event at the Vancouver Public Library central branch takes place  on Thursday (January 11) from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in the Alice MacKay Room. Admission is free.