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Halfway around the world, more and more of this opium is finding its way to Canada. Our heroin used to come mostly from Southeast Asia’s “golden triangle”: Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. That started to change after 2001 when Afghanistan emerged as Canada’s number one supplier, according to the RCMP’s annual drug reports.
By happy coincidence, B.C. has been partially buffered from the impacts. Vancouver Coastal Health had already started to ramp up spending on addiction treatment due to a spike in heroin overdoses in the 1990s.
VCH also funds and operates (with the PHS Community Services Society) the Downtown Eastside’s Insite supervised-injection facility, which cut OD deaths in the surrounding area by more than one-third, according to a study published on April 18 in British medical journal the Lancet. (That hasn’t stopped the Harper government from trying to close Insite. The Supreme Court of Canada is expected to rule later this year on whether or not Ottawa can revoke Insite’s permit to operate, which has been upheld in two lower-court decisions.)
Meanwhile, there are signs of a heroin comeback. “Heroin is making a bit of a resurgence,” Sgt. Shinder Kirk of the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit–B.C. said by phone from his office in Surrey.
The number of Native people in Vancouver who died of illicit-drug overdoses went up from eight in 2001 to 14 in 2005 (the latest available data), according to a 2007 report for the Canadian Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use.
B.C. students saw a “small but significant increase” in heroin use between 2003 and 2008, the nonprofit McCreary Centre Society’s “Adolescent Health Survey” reported in 2008.
Despite the extra money for addiction services, fewer heroin users are getting treatment. In 2001, only 18 percent of injection-drug users in Vancouver had access to services like detox, a recovery house, counselling, or a treatment centre. That number fell to seven percent in 2007, according to a 2009 report from the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS.
The centre’s report also found that more injection-drug users were homeless (13 percent in 2001 versus 24 percent in 2007), and more had HIV (0.6 percent in 2001 compared to 2.4 percent in 2007).