Opioids: How the City of Vancouver is Saving Addicts


An epidemic sweeps the streets of Canadian cities several years ago.

It is the plague of opioids.

The United States is the second largest in the world, behind the United States, with the highest consumption of these substances, according to an analysis conducted between 2013 and 2015 by the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB).

The province of British Columbia and its most important city, Vancouver, are often considered the Canadian epicenter of this crisis.

By 2017, more than 1,400 people they died in this province by overdose of these substances, often acquired in the black market.

And it is estimated that in Vancouver at least one person dies every day for causes related to opiate abuse.

The list of these substances includes heroin, morphine, codeine and fentanyl.

The latter is 50 times more powerful than heroin, it is much cheaper, but so addictive and lethal.

"I had three overdoses," says Melissa in an alley in downtown Vancouver as she tries to hold back tears.

"Probably the only thing that saved me was my desire to live."

A new strategy

However, in recent times, Vancouver authorities have begun to address this problem from another perspective.

The city authorities have accepted that some will never overcome their addiction and that, therefore, the situation should be considered as a public health problem and not a crime issue.

This new strategy is based on two pillars.

The first is to distribute among medical staff, volunteers, and even among addicts Narcan, an antidote to opiate overdose.

Opioids affect the part of the brain that controls breathing.

Consuming high doses of these substances can lead to a deceleration or even disruption of breathing.

The consequent lack of oxygen for an extended period, can have lethal consequences.

Narcan, on the other hand, reverses the effects of overdose after a few minutes of its delivery, and its effect lasts between 30 and 90 minutes. The time needed for emergency services to arrive.

O "narcosalas"

The second pillar of the new strategy is the opening of rooms with conditioned rooms for addicts to inject substances in a supervised manner.

The first was instituted by a community that lives in downtown Vancouver.

In the beginning it was a decision controversialone, but later became the prototype of the public health system.

Users come here with drugs that they buy on the street.

Each has a cubicle with a chair available.

They arrive, sit and inject the dose.

Like Jamie, a former Canadian Army officer who uses this room to inject fentanyl and crystal meth.

This young man fought in the war in Afghanistan, but says he has never seen as much death as in the streets of Vancouver.

Suffered eight overdose, but was saved because the volunteers at this municipal center were able to provide the antidote in time.

Something similar to what Providence Crosstown clinic professionals do, which heroin pure medical degreeunder strict medical supervision.

The treatment costs about $ 19,000 per client per year, borne by local and state public coffers.

However, for Dr. Scott MacDonald, one of the managers of Crosstown Province, if dependents were not treated properly, the cost to society would be much higher.

"Someone who consumes opiates daily costs the justice system and the police, even in terms of transmitting infectious diseases," says MacDonald.

"All these costs can be reduced if people have access to effective treatments."

The medical team distributes the drug to users with previously measured syringes, and also advises on vein care, HIV, hepatitis C and treatment options.

Patty and Joey are two of the 130 patients who come to this clinic for injecting heroin three times a day.

Before they had to sell everything they had to pay for their addiction.

Now, instead, they live in a new apartment and, while still relying on drugs, they see the future in front of them. "bright".

"We are the example that this program works," they say smiling.


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