Wednesday, May 04, 2005


Underbelly News
Downtown Eastside


In the Courier edition of May 4,2005 (, columnist Allen Garr who usually has his facts straight, instead, has chosen to use certain statistics and then fudges them in an effort to discredit and smear MLA Lorne Mayencourt.

Mr Garr, it appears is upset with Lorne Mayencourt's claim that the safe injection site (Insite) in the Downtown Eastside isn't working. In his column, Garr also takes exception to Lorne Mayencourt's safe streets legislation. Mr Garr goes on to articulate that life has improved as a result of Insite and that the drug policy is working. Unusual is that Mr Garr doesn't live in the Downtown Eastside and how he arrives at his conclusion is questionable and quite frankly belies logic.

Mr Garr may have an Axe to grind with Lorne Mayencourt over some issue, but as an award winning journalist and lecturer in the journalism department at Langara College, he certainly doesn't set a shining example for his students when he presents a flimsy defense of how the injection site has improved/saved lives.

For starters, Garr claims that in 1996 there were 377 new cases of Hepatitis C (HCV)per 100,000 residents. He then says that number in 2003 decreased to 139 out of 100,000 individuals due to the establishment of the injection site. Mr Garr makes this assumption based on--god knows what--research. He also conveniently doesn't mention that BC has an infection rate of Hep C that's twice the national average.

Methods of contacting Hep C include snorting or smoking drugs(particularly crystal meth). Insite doesn't have the facilities for this type of illicit drug use and so these addicts partake in their activities on the streets and alley's of the Downtown Eastside. Crystal Meth use has become a menace and as yet, leaders haven't properly addressed this epidemic and for that matter, neither does columnist Garr.

With British Columbia being much smaller than Quebec and Ontario, this raises other questions. Namely why do we have twice the infection rate of these provinces. Troubling is that Mr Garr concludes that the injection site has been a success in reduction of Hep C? In fairness, perhaps its a leap of faith on the part of Mr Garr.

Next up Garr promotes that HIV rates have dropped from 207 cases in 1997 to 95 cases in 2003. He postulates once again, that the injection site is responsible for this decrease. Where Garr obtains his stats is not cited in his article.

However, in 2003 as reported in the Canadian Medical Journal, HIV rates are soaring in the Downtown Eastside within the aboriginal population and that they acquire HIV at twice the rate of other drug users in the Downtown Eastside. In fact infection rates here rival the rates found in Botswana and South Africa.

Another outrageous claim, Mr Garr makes is that in 1998 there were 1,991 drug overdoses compared to 53 in 2004. Again Mr Garr doesn't mention it but I suspect that his numbers of drug overdoses for 2004 came from Insite. The year after the injection site opened, in fact, according to Vancouver Drug policy coordinator Donald McPherson there were more drug deaths than in the previous year before the site opened. This has him very troubled. And, according to longtime executive director Judy McGuire, of the Downtown Eastside Needle Exchange, the number of residents overdosing in their hotel rooms is significant and cause for concern.

What Mr Garr didn't explore in his story is the staggering use of crystal meth in the Downtown Eastside. It has become the drug of choice for most Downtown Eastside addicts and sadly the number of suicides due to Crystal Meth Use is increasing. In the Province paper today, an anguished mother spoke out about how her son jumped off the Cambie bridge as a result of Crystal Meth addiction. His death doesn't count as an overdose since toxicology reports showed no meth in his system. In another story, which appeared today in XtraWest, a young 21 year old male spoke about his battles with Crystal Meth addiction. He presented having delusional thoughts, often thinking others were trying to harm him. Countless times, he phoned the police and took up their scarce resources in his mistaken beliefs that people were going to murder him.

Harm reduction as we know will not work for those on Crystal Meth. Whether it can save lives is also largely unknown. Mr Mayencourt realizes this and he is probably trying to do his best as others are, in addressing this major problem of drug addiction in our city.

Just providing an enabling mechanism (such as an inhalation or injection room at Insite) will not fix the problem. Nor will it help addicts who become paranoid, delusional, suicidal and perhaps even homicidal as a result of drug induced psychosis.

It has been estimated that most of those on the street are either homeless, drug addicted and or mentally ill. I'm not certain whether Mr Mayencourt's safe streets act will address these concerns, however, dialogue must happen now if we are going to protect other citizens (such as senior citizens,children and other law abiding citizens) from encounters with crazed out druggies.

While its easy for Mr Garr to discount Mr. Mayencourt's political vision, but to suggest that Mayencourt perhaps is off his meds is really dysfunctional journalism. Perhaps, Mr Garr its you that needs something because on this issue you are way off your mark.

Jamie Lee Hamilton