B.C. poised for drug decriminalization experiment, but will it help stem deadly tide?
People living in tents along about eight blocks of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside roam around on a chilly afternoon as some in the throes of addiction are hunched over on the sidewalk near storefronts.
A woman wearing black and white striped pants strides along East Hastings Street yelling, apparently at no one, amid the hubbub of a flea market featuring everything from books to clothes and TVs from a bygone era.
The Crosstown Clinic, North America’s only facility offering medical-grade injectable heroin, is a few doors down and Canada’s first supervised injection site has been a sanctuary across the street since 2003 for those shooting up drugs under the watchful eye of a nurse. Both places operate on a harm-reduction model that aims to reduce the risk of overdose.
While drugs have been used openly in the neighbourhood for decades, much of the focus on toxic, illicit substances has shifted in recent years to neighbourhoods across B.C., including in rural communities, where people seeking escape inside their homes are dying alone.
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