The Port of Vancouver is the largest port on the west coast of North America in terms of metric tons of total cargo.
There is simply too much traffic and too little time to search more than a fraction of shipping containers. As a result, these streets have been saturated with heroin for decades.
However, the threat posed by the already dangerous drug is often accentuated by the malevolence of manufacturers.
Constable Dave Dickson of the Vancouver Police Department explains,
“Every once and a while the manufacturers bump up the strength of Vancouver’s heroin. At one point in 2000 the purity was 25% and they bumped it up to 90%. They did it because research shows that at that level one third of those who try it will become addicted.
That year was the record level of overdose deaths for Vancouver. We had 355 overdoses in one year.
Some of the people we found still had the needle in their arm. It’s that quick, they inject it and it shuts the body down instantaneously.
People wonder why they’d do that, why they’d kill off their customers. But if one third who try it get addicted then that year they’ve probably created 8,000 more addicts. 355 dead people? Big deal!
Now they’ve got all these new addicts and you take that 90% pure heroin and you cut it back to 50%. Those new addicts now have to spend $300 a day to get their fix instead of $150. Once you build up that tolerance it doesn’t go down, it keeps increasing.”
Recognizing the impossibility of stemming the flow of heroin, the City of Vancouver has adopted several harm reduction strategies, including the establishment of Insite.
While Insite is an invaluable contribution to the Downtown Eastside there are limitations to what it can achieve.
Not every addict uses the safe injection site and the facility could not handle the traffic if they tried.
Despite American outcry over Vancouver’s safe injection site, many U.S. cities have taken progressive steps that even Vancouver refuses to adopt.
Police in Chicago regularly make undercover purchases of heroin and issue an advisory to the drug community if a dangerous batch is discovered.
The government needs to build upon Vancouver’s accomplishments and establish more harm reduction programs rather than constantly threatening to turn back the tide on successful efforts like Insite.