VANCOUVER — Illicit stimulant drugs are so cheap and abundant in Vancouver that a majority of users say they can score crack or crystal meth within minutes, states a report by an independent health group.
The 52-page report, released Tuesday by the Urban Health Research Initiative at the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, suggests 90 per cent of drug users said they could find crack or cocaine in Vancouver within 10 minutes.
Over the last decade, more than 2,000 drug users, most living in the Downtown Eastside, participated in the study. The report shows an increasing number of addicts are choosing stimulants, like crack and crystal meth, over opiates, like heroin.
The numbers are disturbingly high among street youth, say the researchers, with 60 per cent of participants reporting being able to score crystal meth in the same period of time. Crystal meth is a highly addictive and potent stimulant that is usually snorted or injected.
“These are mainly street youth in the city’s West End ... it’s not a portrait of the suburbs or kids in high school,” said Dr. Evan Wood, co-author of the study.
There is a growing trend toward stimulants, largely because they are easy to use and are cheaper, said Thomas Kerr, also a co-author. The study found that in 2007, heroin cost $20 per gram in Vancouver, while crystal meth was $10.
The price remained relatively consistent over the 10 years for all drugs, with the exception of crystal meth, which was studied for only three years.
While the rate of cocaine use decreased in the last decade, the number of respondents smoking crack cocaine soared to 41.7 per cent in 2007 from only 3.5 per cent in 1996, the study suggests. Kerr said many of the participants were injection drug users when they began the study, but may have switched to just smoking crack at some point. A number of respondents also do both, he said.
Another area of drug use the study tracked was the amount of users who admit to shooting up in public.
From 2003 to 2007, one survey showed no change in the percentage of injection users (more than 50 per cent) who reported never having injected in public, while the number of users who said they always shot up in public dropped by half to 10 per cent in 2007 from 20 per cent in 2003.
Vancouver’s first supervised injection site, Insite, opened in 2003. Wood said the site was dealing with 500 injections a day, and he believes the city would benefit from opening a second site, as well as a supervised inhalation site for crack smokers.
“The most marginalized, homeless, young women who are sex trade workers, the most vulnerable want to use these programs and the existing program we have isn’t open 24 hours and there are often lineups,” Wood said.
The authors conclude that focussing on law enforcement isn’t succeeding in combating the problem.
“Don’t get me wrong, police have a critical and important role to play in public safety and other issues,” said Wood. “But if they’re spending their energies trying to reduce the flow of drugs, they need to look at the evidence and realize that is not going to happen.”
The authors claim Ottawa’s anti-drug strategy has failed and want to see the federal government redistribute funding so more is directed to harm reduction strategies instead of the majority going to law enforcement. The authors claim only two per cent of funding is spent on harm reduction.
Richard Cunningham, 48, a recovering cocaine addict who lives in the Downtown Eastside, said sending addicts to jail isn’t a deterrent and doesn’t stop people from the area from using again once they’re released.
“Most of the users down here have been in jail so often they would rather take that than live on the streets these days,” he said.