News Flash: Vancouver has a drug problem

One of the lead news stories in Vancouver today was a study which found that illicit drugs are rampant on the streets of Vancouver.

The B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS reported that drugs such as heroin, cocaine, meth and marijuana can be bought on Vancouver’s streets in as little as 10 minutes.

Go figure. And in other news, a plane landed safely today at YVR.

I’m not sure what’s more frustrating — that this problem continues to fester after years of enforcement, education and even harm reduction, or that some people are just waking up to the fact that it’s about as easy to buy crack in Downtown Vancouver as it is to find a Starbucks.

By the way, there’s a Starbucks on just about every corner.

What appears of particular concern to the study’s authors is that street drugs are just as accessible to young people as they are to adults, if not more.

“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),” said the press release posted online by the BC Centre of Excellence in HIV/AIDS.

I’m not sure what else you would expect with the slapdash assortment of marijuana cafes, pot dispensaries and crooked corner stores that line Hastings Street — a 10 minute walk from four separate SkyTrain stations. Not to mention the army of drug dealers, many of whom are barely adults themselves, that litters the lanes of the Downtown Eastside and operates with near impunity. It’s not as if people who make their living by pimping poison to drug addicts are going to suddenly have a moral epiphany when a 16 year old customer waves $20 in their face.

Yes, Vancouver does have a drug problem. I’m waiting for the study that shows us the solution.

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26 Responses to News Flash: Vancouver has a drug problem

  1. Steve (not the cop) says:

    Sadly, this is what a great many (most) studies/reports do – point out what is blatantly obvious to anyone living life with even just one eye open. This is how many academics and ‘experts’ justify their positions. Of course, the only people these BS ‘studies’ and ‘reports’ truly serve are the academics and ‘experts’ who author them.

    In another case of pointing out the obvious, the money wasted in these useless ‘studies’ and ‘reports’ could indeed be much better used in the areas of prevention and treatment.

    • Ricardo says:

      Are the results really obvious? They suggest that it is easier to get access to drugs if you’re younger, but the distribution of funding doesn’t reflect that.

      The policy doesn’t reflect the research, so if it’s obvious then the failing is in the implementation. There’s a lot of consensus regarding the war on drugs, but the war goes on.

  2. Helen W says:

    Steve, do you have an opinion on “harm reduction”? Does it do any good in the long term?

    • Steve says:

      I certainly think harm reduction has a role to play in reducing the spread of infectious diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C. Will it do any good in the long term? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

      For the most part, harm reduction strategies like the Supervised Injection Site and needle exchanges are public health policies, not policing strategies. The Vancouver Police Department is in favour of any legal measure that might have a chance to reduce the drug problem on the Downtown Eastside. The department’s interest has always been public safety. Our mandate is not research and it’s not public health.

      • Raingurl says:

        To quote you, “Our mandate is not research and it’s not public health.” Yet, sadly most of a DTES beat cop’s job is public health.

        Yes, there is a Starbuck’s on every corner EXCEPT for the DTES where you can find ten bars in a five block radius.

        • George says:

          Have to comment. I have worked in one of those bars and I’ve certainly been to more then a few of them. I don’t think they are really the problem. The one I worked at had a very strong policy of not allowing people to sell items and drugs were not allowed. Of course there are still issues I’m not saying its all good but the real problem I believe is the drugs & players on the street.

          • Raingurl says:

            Hi George, I’ve been to some of the bars on “the strip”. The staff is always friendly and the security is tight. One guard asked me to take off my hoodie. I made a comment about the Starbucks because there should be more coffee joints and less boozing. There is nothing else to do there but drink and that gets boring after awhile.

    • Michelle says:

      The BC Centre for Excellence does do research on such public health issues and you can Google search for those studies. I think that reducing spread of HIV, HCV and getting people in the DTES to build relationships with health care services does do a lot of good in the long term.

  3. Mark says:

    I highly doubt the results would be different in any other city in Canada, aside from smaller communities. Drugs exist everywhere.

    One thing we know is that drugs are not going away regardless of how much money we pile into policing or paid advertisements telling you that drugs are bad. Has anyone ever sat down & logically investigated WHY people do drugs? I mean aside from the usual nonsense about so called gateway drugs, etc?

    Perhaps the answer is to allow the government to be the drug dealer? Allow the government to produce, control & sell meth, crack & heroin. The revenue made from the sales could be used (exclusively) to help the users clean up. It would NOT be a source of taxes like alcohol & cigarettes. Having the government as the drug dealer would do several things. It would ensure that the product sold is not laced with rat poison. It would also put an end to the gangsters, whom we see on The Beat, locking up people in cages, raping women or assaulting people that can’t pay.

    Now, I know you’re going to say what a stupid idea this is. How could the government endorse & sell a product that does harm? Well they already do. They make a profit on cigarettes. They also make a tidy profit on alcohol, which, I would imagine, does FAR more destruction to general society than crack does. And the government has no issue endorsing the sale of big Pharma & all the poison it sells. Nor does it seem concerned about the mountain of trans fat, processed food society eats.

    Will it stop people from using drugs? No. But we need to realize NOTHING will stop that. It’s not going to stop women from standing on the corner selling their bodies either. What it will do is allow that woman to buy her drugs in a safe environment & know that when she is ready to say “I want to quit this” there will be the funds & infrastructure to cover the costs. And it was all paid for by her..and everyone else using the drugs. The same should be done with alcohol and cigarettes. The taxation taken from the products should be used to help people quit smoking, pay for shelter for abuses spouses who need to escape an alcoholic & help drunks get their life together again.

    But it won’t happen. Instead, what we will do is continue down the same merry little road we’re on now. No offense to you Steve, but having the police trying to stop drug dealing gangsters is like being a farmer and having your 3 year step on grasshoppers during a locust plague. Sure he’s gonna bag a few, but it isn’t going to fix the problem.

    • Steve says:

      Mark. You make some interesting points, and while I don’t agree with your suggestion that we make government the producer and regulator of street drugs, I do often feel like I’m the farmer trying trying to stamp out the grasshoppers during the locust plague (excellent analogy, by the way). The argument about legalization/regulation/government distribution of street drugs is not new, and I expected it in response to this post.

      But it’s flawed, as far as I’m concerned. You can’t compare meth, pot, crack and heroin to cigarettes and red wine. For one, the government doesn’t make the cigarettes and red wine, but it does regulate the sales and tries to prohibit sales to kids. And guess what, it’s done very little to prevent alcohol abuse in adults, not to mention underage drinking and smoking. Also, I’d like to see how many tax dollars from booze and cigarette sales have been put toward curing alcoholics and chain smokers.

      Second, you have to remember that the drug trade is an international business. Marijuana and meth may be grown/produced in a home near you, but it’s not as if these products are grown strictly for B.C. customers. Pot is smuggled across borders, just as cocaine and heroin is being smuggled in from the countries that produce it. Are we to think Christy Clark or Stephen Harper will begin doing business with the drug lords of the Golden Triangle, or with the drug cartels in Latin America? Not likely.

      • DC says:

        I get your objection to making the government the producer of pots (for example). But I’m not sure what your trying to get at regarding the legalization of marijuana. Smuggling and production are legal issues. If sugar were illegal you could make the same arguments that it should remain illegal because no companies legally produce it and we’d have to do business with the “sugar plantation cartels” and of course smuggling to other countries would occur.

        Were pot legal in Canada there’s nothing to stop legitimate, law abiding companies from becoming producers to Canadian consumers. It would be no different than the legal production and sale of alcohol in the late 20’s (despite it being illegal in the US).

    • Steve (not the cop) says:

      Mark wrote:
      “It would also put an end to the gangsters, whom we see on The Beat, locking up people in cages, raping women or assaulting people that can’t pay.”
      A nice thought, but… No, legalizing drugs certainly wouldn’t put an end to that stuff. I somehow don’t see the “gangsters” and others involved in the illegal/criminal drug trade suddenly becoming real estate agents and chartered accountants if drugs were made legal.

      What legalizing drugs would do is create competition between the legal side and the illegal side. There is too much money in the drug business for the criminal element to simply pack up and go away.

      • Mark says:

        So what pray tell would the gangsters & dealers do if the government controlled access to drugs? Provided that taxation levels are not too onerous & that access to the drugs isn’t complex or prescription based, what could they do? Sure, they could attempt to undercut the government, but that would narrow their profit margins. Or would they attempt to attack or raid the government’s supply chain?

        Steve (Not the Cop). Drug dealing is a business & the gangland side of it would simply disappear and move on to greener pastures. There are no rum runners anymore. The cigarette industry was a HUGE business & it’s prominence in society (and profits) have declined. Most of it’s $$ comes from 3rd world nations.

        Drug dealing would suffer the same fate as dozens of other huge industries that have declined/failed. Perhaps the best example is the recorded music industry. They carried themselves like gangsters & through all their litigation and “gangster” style tactics have become a much smaller business.

        Reality is reality dude and drug dealers live in that reality.

        • Steve (not the cop) says:

          Dream on, Mark…

          It’s a nice dream – but a dream nonetheless.
          One might even call it a ‘pipe dream’, if you’ll excuse the pun.

          The question of “what pray tell would the gangsters & dealers do if the government controlled access to drugs?” is obviously better put to you than to me, as I’m saying that they will simply remain ‘gangsters and dealers’. It is you who is claiming that they will abandon the drug business – and so what will become of them? Will they become doctors? Shoe salesmen? Perhaps police officers?
          Or will they simply and magically vanish into thin air?

          Any comparing of the drug dealers of today with the bootleggers of 100 years ago is simply silly. The world has changed a little since then… we have sound in films, for one…
          And the films are even in colour.

        • Michelle says:

          I think some of the fear with legalizing drugs that are illegal is that they c0uld then be marketed and sold the same way that alcohol and cigarettes are. There are way more people who use alcohol and cigarettes than who use heroin or even prescription opiates because they are sold for recreational use with the intention of making profit off of them.

  4. Mark says:


    I guess one could argue, has the government made it harder for a teenager to get a 6 pack than a bag of weed? Based on this study, I’d say the answer is it’s harder to get alcohol. The distribution of hard drugs would need much greater control than alcohol or cigarettes (I’d argue it’s tougher to get smokes than beer). As for how much tax money garnered from the sale of smokes & booze is used towards curing smokers & alcoholics? We both know the answer. The answer is little to none. Controlling the supply chain is not about ending addiction as much as it is ending the crime/violence that come with the gangsters in the business. And it is a business.

    I do realize that what I wrote is not going to happen. It would require a coordinated plan that would have to be international. Given that we live next door to a country that throws people in jail for smoking weed, I’d surmise it’s pretty unlikely. And the idea isn’t without it’s problems, but hey, we’re discussion a problem that’s been around for eon’s so why not throw out ideas.

    As for Christy Clark or Harper dealing with drug cartels. Yes, that too seems far fetched, but is it really? Eastern Canada buys oil and gas from countries like Nigeria or Saudi Arabia. Are the governments of these countries any different than a bunch of drug gangsters? The US government & it’s subsidiaries (CIA) has been caught selling weapons to rouge nations & terrorists. Is that any less immoral than buying coke from Colombians?

    I want to ask you this Steve. How much safer would the streets of the DTES be for the addicts & destitute IF they bought their drugs from the government instead of the gangsters?.

  5. George says:

    Had to stop and wonder what the…? When I caught this story on the news I was thinking, hey I can’t step outside my apartment and walk more then 3 blocks without some crack-head offering to sell me drugs, and I’m usually dressed for work!!? (somewhat disturbing statement on my work attire lol). So I’m wondering, how much do they pay people to do these studies cause I’m willing to answer these obvious questions for half of whatever they’re paying these” experts”. However expect its just another example of the huge economy surrounding this mess – everybody getting a piece of the pie. Who wouldn’t want a 50,000/yr plus job “helping” the “needy”? Politically correctness dictates we can’t blame the drug users, they are just “victims” (who require hundreds of dollars a day to feed their habit). We can’t blame the poverty pimps they are just trying to help (who make hundreds of dollars a day to feel good about their “good works”). Our civic government, Mayor Robertson & Vision Team even provides grants to VANDU, an organization that promotes the use of drugs in the DTES. We can’t arrest anyone cause they need medical attention not prison. We can’t offer medical attention cause it would infringe on their rights. We can’t deport the illegal alien drug pusher cause he has his right to be heard (x3). And so the petty crime that funds this dysfunctional economy carries on as usual, the poverty pimps demand more money & the courts & police continue caught in the middle of it all. And we the taxpayer fund it all.

    And yes I’m perhaps a tad hardened but if you had lived in the DTES as long as I have and watched the cycle go on and on. Every five years or so some politician offering up some new big scheme and some cash (and generally some friends or relative of theirs acquiring some sort of job from it) then the it fades away and the streets return to the organized chaos.

    Still I say it over and over, why the citizens & politicians would turn the birthplace of this city with all its amazing historic architecture over to a bunch of drug dealers and squatters is beyond me.

    • Mark says:


      Ya know, I can understand your frustration with the whole thing. If you go live in an American ghetto where crime is commonplace the answer to fix the problem from local residents is usually “shoot all the ***********”

      But man, you can’t see it that way. Drugs and their ugly side is a fact of society. It’s not going to go away. And, indeed, a place like the DTES is a huge pit for public funds. But you need to look at it from another perspective….

      The response to the crack problem in America was to pretty much ignore it. Why waste public funds on a bunch of junkies after all? Just forget the problem and it will go away. Thing is it doesn’t. You mentioned you walk down the street in your business clothes. Venture into a drug neighborhood in the States like West Applewood in Detroit or maybe Gladeview in Miami. Not only do you have destitution, you also have unreal levels of violence. Trust me, you ain’t taking a walk in East Detroit at 7 PM (many citizens won’t even drive in certain areas). The criminal element in that neighborhood WILL spill out into the rest of the city over time.

      So what’s my point? Well my point is that the bags of money we throw at the DTES do have an effect (as do our gun laws). The money might not stop the addiction or prostitution, but it does temper the gangland violence. Not a big win, but it is a win.

      Of course we could do what they did in Medellin Colombia. Medellin was once the most dangerous city in the world due to drug trafficking. The government responded by sending using a full out military assault on the drug lords. The result was the streets were cleaned up…as the scum simply moved on. BUT…crime in Medellin is now on the upswing again. 5 years ago, Medellin had maybe 500 murders. Today it averages around 2800. Seems sweeping the streets with brute force just didn’t work.

      I’m a traveled guy man. Truth is, for the average citizen a stroll through Hastings is “uncomfortable”. There are many areas in this world with drug problems where a “stroll” is impossible. In some cases even driving in an area is potential suicide. I attribute this to the fact we “throw money” at the problem. All that money does not fix the problem, but it does ensure that the DTES isn’t Medellin, or East Detroit, or Gladeview Miami or Sao Paulo, Brasil or South Africa….

      • George says:

        I would never say the DTES isn’t safe. I have traveled some and definitely have seen areas far far worse then the DTES. I’ve rarely if ever had a problem living or working in the DTES. Odd fact is I’ve had 3 instances in Vancouver over my time here when a police office was called or needed. Once on Robson Street, Once one Main & one time on Hornby. Fact is the people living in the DTES are mostly a fairly friendly lot. It’s the population that doesn’t live here but passes through selling drugs that I find most disruptive and definitely not all that interested in being friendly, but I just ignore them…well sometimes I look them in the eye just to establish territory. 😉

        As for throwing money at the problem – I just wish we could “throw” some money at re-establishing institutions that look after the mentally ill and back it up with some legal ability to confine those that are not able to look after themselves. Then maybe “throw” some money at rehab centers that don’t exist in the center of the drug trade.

        But there I go getting all hopeful again and that just sets me up for disappointment. To be honest I’m too old to really care that much anymore and I live down here cause if nothing else I find the grit of this area to be rather refreshing & original in its way compared to all the shiny places in yaletown et al.

  6. Mark says:


    I agree with your comment on living in an area that has a bit of grittiness. It makes the neighborhood far more interesting & a place like that is more likely to be an incubator for original ideas & creativity.

    I also agree that far more money should be spent on rehab & institutions that do more than just “cope” with the problem. Unfortunately, said reality is unlikely to happen. My own opinion is that the world is built around individualism rather than the collective. There is little appetite to help ANYONE out, let along a neighborhood full of junkies. When I was in high school, when someone landed a good paying job with benefits, other folks would say “good for him, that’s great”. Today, the response would be that person is an “overpaid lazy slacker who doesn’t deserve it”. Folks are focused on only themselves & anyone that does better than they are is “overpaid and lazy”. If they are less successful it’s their own fault because they’re lazy, stupid and unmotivated. We’re a society that envisions building great things, yet we’re impatience when we wait more than 3 minutes at a drive through. And we expect to find the will to fix a complex problem that will take years, if not decades to improve?

    The ugly reality is the political will just isn’t there to win. I’m personal friends with a couple of politicians. At the end of the day, priority one is keeping power; to heck with making decisions that improve things long term. As long as that mentality continues nothing is going to change.

  7. Sue says:

    I came across this article in the Globe today and thought I would share

    I applaud the concept

    • Raingurl says:

      I read the article, thanks for sharing. In my most (un) expert opinion, the only person that can treat an addict is a sober addict. But that’s just my opinion. A doctor can go to school for years, a cop can train for years, a lawyer can sit in a library for the rest of his/her life but that will never give them insite (oh, there’s a popular word on the beat) as to what an addict goes through mentally and/or physically.

  8. Raingurl says:

    Mark, George, Steve (not the cop),

    At the end of the day have any of you actually spent a night on the street? Or pushed a pipe? Or did that most scary thing with a needle. I hated them as a kid, I was not gonna start doing it as a teen when some of my friends tried. (still get sick thinking about it).

    All of you are talking the talk but did you ever walk the walk?

    • Steve (not the cop) says:

      If you’re implying that one need have spent time ‘down & out’ and ‘messed up’ in order to care and help those who are ‘messed up’, that’s pure BS. It’s nothing more than a cop out.

      I’ve known loads of messed up people of varying degrees. I see them and spend time with them and talk with them and, most importantly, listen to them regularly.

      I’m certainly not going to ‘apologize’ for never having lived in the cesspool of the streets. And I hope no-one else does, either.

      • Raingurl says:

        No, don’t apologize for being “a lucky one” I just wanted to know what you guys knew about being an addict. Sorry if I offended you.

        • Tomas says:

          In 1970, I worked at a suemmr camp for disturbed adolescents run by two clinical psychology professors from a large southern university. The same kids were there for the entire 7 weeks and the emphasis was on a behavioral approach to treatment.One 14 year old boy in my cabin had been, in his records, described as having serious OCD. He would have to walk sideways at times because he had to be facing a certain directions. He needed to perform rituals in order to take a shower, eat or go to the bathroom. It one time he had been hospitalized because he had become impacted due to not being able perform the rituals correctly in order to go to the bathroom.When he came to camp, he acted perfectly normally for the entire 7 weeks. No signs of OCD what-so-ever. We even had to have him sit down with the other kids in our cabin and explain why he was in camp and they could see no reason for him to be there. We believed just getting the kid out of his home environment may have done the trick.We also wondered what, if any, role his father’s occupation played in the boy’s problem. His father was a child psychiatrist.