A new report on Vancouver’s drug problem highlights the success of harm-reduction strategies and related approaches while suggesting tougher policing has not been effective.
The report, released today (June 24) by the Urban Health Initiative at the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, is based on illicit drug-use data collected over a 15-year period.
“The objective of this report is to make data accessible to a wide variety of stakeholders and to directly inform the City of Vancouver’s Four Pillars Drug Strategy, the Province of British Columbia’s response to illicit drug use, and the Canadian federal government’s National Anti-Drug Strategy,” the report says.
Among its findings, the study shows that while overall drug use remained steady from 1996 to 2011, injection drug use decreased over that period.
The report also shows the percentage of drug users accessing methadone therapy rose to more than 50 percent over that period; fewer drug users reported difficulty getting addiction treatment; and reports of syringe borrowing decreased to 1.7 percent in 2011 from 40 percent in 1996.
Meanwhile, the report shows that while many drug users said they had been jailed, an emphasis on police enforcement has had little impact on the price or availability of illicit drugs.
“Between 2000 and 2011, drug prices remained low and stable, with heroin prices at $20 per 0.1 gram and cocaine, crack cocaine and crystal methamphetamine at $10 per 0.1 gram. The availability of these so-called ‘hard drugs’ is comparable to, and in some cases even greater than, the reported availability of marijuana,” the report says.
In a news release, report co-author Thomas Kerr credits addiction treatment and harm-reduction services for helping more people to stop using injection drugs.
“It’s important policymakers at all levels of government take note of this evidence and focus efforts on approaches proven to be more effective,” Kerr says in the release. “Continuing to invest in failed policies like the war on drugs does little to reduce health and social harms.”