SFU Woodward’s has released a compelling documentary about how the Downtown Eastside is coping with the fentanyl crisis.
Titled, “Overdose Crisis: A Community Responds,” the short film primarily focuses on the Overdose Prevention Society and two of its co-founders, Sarah Blyth and Ann Livingston, as well as several of the people who work with them on the ground. (You can watch it below.)
“As there was more overdoes in the neighbourhood…we were needing to become way more organized with our approach,” Blyth says in the film. It then recounts the grassroots effort that Downtown Eastside activists made in establishing unsanctioned injection sites where people can bring drugs to do there under volunteers’ supervision.
The 20-minute film is the work of Am Johal, a director with SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement, and Eric Sanderson, a freelance documentarian based in Vancouver. It was released via YouTube on August 24.
In the film, Livingston recounts how the Overdose Prevention Society’s work was originally met with hostility.
“It’s unsanctioned, which means it’s illegal,” she says. “The first press I think we got was the Vancouver Sun had an editorial saying we should all be arrested. I was very pessimistic and I was really upset.”
Livingston also notes that in years previous, Vancouver’s regional health authority shut down similar unsanctioned supervised-injection sites that she had established with the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU).
“I figured if we started anything, they would make us shut it down,” she says. “In the past, VANDU had been forced to close down an injection site by Vancouver Coastal Health Authority and an injection van that I had went and set up. That stayed with me a long time, that terrible feeling of having to tell 50 to 100 people a day to go in the alley and use their drugs. It was so awful. And so I thought maybe the same thing would happen to us. And it didn’t.”
On December 8, former B.C. health minister Terry Lake endorsed the Overdose Prevention Society’s unsanctioned sites and announced the government would establish more than 15 additional facilities like them across the province.
This year, it’s projected that more than 1,500 people will die of an illicit-drug overdose in B.C. That’s up from 978 fatal overdoses in 2016, 519 the year before that, and 369 in 2014.More