Vancouver, like many major cities, has a significant problem with drug related crime and disorder. In the late 1800s when Vancouver had only 5000 people there was so much concern about the drug problem that the Police Chief initiated a study that determined there were 50 seriously addicted opiate addicts. It is interesting to note that the percentage of drug addicted people has remained the same throughout our history. When I was Mayor there were around 6000 seriously addicted people in a population of 600,000.

Vancouver Police estimate that the vast majority of property crime in Vancouver is a direct result of addicted individuals attempting to get money to buy drugs.

Many of those who are addicted to drugs and on the street also suffer from mental health problems and recent surveys indicate that at least one third of people who are homeless have significant mental health issues and are in need of serious health interventions. A Vancouver Police Board study estimated that one third of all police calls are for people with mental illnesses.

Adults with a mental illness are more than twice as likely to have a substance abuse disorder. When mental illness and substance abuse occur together, this is known as a concurrent disorder. More often than not, the mental illness emerges first and substance abuse follows.

Dr. Michael Krausz, the UBC Providence Leadership Chair for addiction research estimates that 93 per cent of Vancouver’s homeless have a mental disorder while 83 per cent of them have a substance abuse disorder.

Many of those coping with mental illness and substance abuse only get access to help once they have landed in the criminal justice system or been admitted to hospital.

While I was Mayor, I took innovative approaches in addressing the issue of addiction and its related health problems. Vancouver was the first city in Canada to create a municipal drug strategy which laid out the elements of a Comprehensive response to the negative impacts of drug use and the drug trade on our communities. Vancouver began to adopt new approaches to the drug problem in the 1980s. It is interesting to realize that it took us 100 years of suffering under inappropriate responses to try something new.

I wanted to develop compassionate solutions to the social challenges we face.

I supported the establishment of North America’s first supervised injection facility. It provides injection drug users a clean, safe place to inject drugs under the supervision of trained health care professionals.

When this initiative was evaluated, it was determined that the facility was a vital public health intervention, successful at preventing drug overdose deaths, reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS, limiting public disorder and moving more people into detox and addiction treatment.

I also supported the North American Opiate Medication Initiative (NAOMI) heroin assisted treatment trials which was led by researchers at the University of British Columbia and took over 250 chronic drug addicts and introduced them to heroin maintenance and substitution treatment over a three-year period (2005-2008).

New England Journal of Medicine concluded that the initiative reduces crime, improved health outcomes and employment, dramatically reduces illicit heroin use, and reduced the addicts time spent on drugs.

An extension of NAOMI was SALOME, the Study to Assess Longer-term Opioid Medication Effectiveness. SALOME provided substitution treatment in a special trial to more than 200 people with heroin addiction in Montreal and Vancouver over three years. The idea was to transition addicts to legal oral medication and provide psycho-social treatment that would address the underlying causes of addiction. I helped raise funds for this important research initiative.

I believe elected representatives must have the courage to support innovative treatment programs. The results from Vancouver are clear. We were able to reduce the incidence of criminal activity and public disorder within the drug addicted population for those within methadone maintenance or heroin assisted treatment programs. These treatment programs have also helped to decrease the level of homelessness and increase the level of employment.

I am pleased with the significant movement towards improving the health consequences of drug addiction. I envision a society where people with health problems are handled through an effective approach that responds to and treats addiction.

When I was awarded an Honorary Membership to the College of Family Physicians of Canada for “courageous leadership in introducing and supporting programs for inner-city populations in need” I felt even more encouraged to pursue innovative approaches to addiction. If elected as Member of the Legislative Assembly for British Columbia I will continue to advocate for more compassionate and results oriented programs for those who are struggling with this problem.


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