Most users of heroin, crack, cocaine, crystal meth and marijuana say they can obtain drugs in less than 10 minutes
Vancouver, B.C. [August 14, 2012]: Illicit drugs are easily and quickly accessible to users in Vancouver despite decades of aggressive drug law enforcement efforts aimed at suppressing drug supply, according to a new study from the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE).
The peer-reviewed study, published today in The American Journal on Addictions, assessed the accessibility of substances such as heroin, crack, cocaine, crystal methamphetamine and marijuana among youth and adult users in Vancouver. Researchers found that all illegal drugs researched remain readily obtainable within as little as 10 minutes to most users.
“The ease with which users can access illicit and injectable drugs is alarming given the serious medical harms associated with their use, including the transmission of infectious diseases such as HIV,” says Dr. Scott Hadland, MD, lead author of the study and now chief resident in pediatrics at Harvard University-affiliated Children’s Hospital Boston. “It is particularly concerning that most youth report immediate access to drugs because they are very vulnerable to the potentially severe health consequences associated with drug use. Law enforcement is not keeping illicit drugs out of the hands of youth, raising an urgent need to develop treatment and prevention strategies for young people.”
In addition to increased risk of transmitting HIV and other blood-borne illnesses, regular drug use among youth has been shown to interfere with development, education and integration into society, potentially leading to homelessness, poverty and sex-trade work. These problems often persist into adulthood. Among the 330 youth aged 14-26 involved in the study, nearly 63% reported accessing crystal methamphetamine in as little as 10 minutes, compared to 39% of adult users. Young drug users also reported significantly easier access to marijuana, with 88% saying they could obtain the drug within 10 minutes (versus 73% of adults).
The majority of adult drug users in the study reported immediate access to heroin (81% compared to 56% for youth), crack (90% compared to 69%) and cocaine (84% compared to 61%). The study time frame follows the announcement of strict enforcement strategies in 2007 under Canada’s National Anti-Drug Strategy.
The findings from the study are consistent with recent global assessments demonstrating an expanding worldwide drug market despite increased law enforcement efforts. According to a 2012 report from the blue-ribbon Global Commission on Drug Policy (GCDP), annual global drug consumption increased between 1998 and 2008. Opiate consumption increased by 34.5%, cocaine consumption by 27% and marijuana consumption by 8.5%. The GCDP includes business, health and political leaders such as former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. It has concluded that expenditures on criminalization and repressive measures directed at producers, traffickers and consumers of illegal drugs have been unsuccessful in effectively curtailing supply or consumption.
“The experience in Vancouver is consistent with global trends demonstrating that expensive drug law enforcement strategies have clearly failed to limit access to and consumption of illicit drugs,” says Dr. Evan Wood, senior author for the study and co-director of the Urban Health Research Initiative at the BC-CfE. “Law enforcement does have a role in community safety. However, public health and safety would be better served if we prioritized and invested more in addiction treatment and other evidence-based strategies to address the societal-level harms associated with addiction.”
Evidence-based treatments include specialized addiction medicine and psychiatric consultations to provide effective medications and psychosocial approaches proven to reduce rates of drug use and related harms. Dr. Wood’s team is actively helping to support expanded addiction treatment in B.C.
B.C. is a global leader in urban health research and evidence-based interventions to fight HIV and AIDS. As a result of implementing the BC-CfE-pioneered Treatment as Prevention strategy, which involves widespread HIV testing and provision of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) to people with HIV, new HIV diagnoses fell from approximately 900 cases per year in the early 1990’s to 289 in 2011. B.C. has experienced a similarly dramatic decline in new HIV cases attributable to injection drug use, from more than 400 in 1996 to 50 in 2010.
About the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS
The BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE) is Canada’s largest HIV/AIDS research, treatment and education facility and is internationally recognized as an innovative world leader in combating HIV/AIDS and related diseases. BC-CfE is based at St. Paul’s Hospital, Providence Health Care, a teaching hospital of the University of British Columbia. The BC-CfE works in close collaboration with key provincial stakeholders, including health authorities, health care providers, academics from other institutions, and the community to decrease the health burden of HIV and AIDS and to improve the health of British Columbians living with HIV through developing, monitoring and disseminating comprehensive research and treatment programs for HIV and related illnesses.
About the Urban Health Research Initiative
The Urban Health Research Initiative (UHRI) was established in 2007 as a program of the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS at St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver, Canada. Led by principal investigators Thomas Kerr, PhD, and Evan Wood, MD, PhD, UHRI is based on a network of studies that have been developed to help identify and understand the many factors that affect the health of urban populations, with a focus on substance use, infectious diseases, the urban environment and homelessness.
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