We’re expecting the latest grim update from the BC Coroners’ Service on 2016 overdose deaths next week, and they’re likely to be ugly.
And with no end in sight to the crisis, one former NDP premier says it’s time for radical action: legalizing the hard drugs that are killing people on the street.
LISTEN: Mike Harcourt tells Steele and Drex why he supports legalization
While the man who once served as Mayor of Vancouver and Premier of BC is calling for drugs like heroin to be made legal, it’s not a position he’s thrilled about taking.
“I don’t fee comfortable at all,” says Mike Harcourt of the idea.
“[But] I don’t feel comfortable about anybody being enslaved or addicted whether it’s to alcohol or to prescription drugs, or anything. … In public policy from my experience in 24 years in elected office, it’s not usually a choice between good better and best, it’s a choice between bad, worse, and shittiest.”
Harcourt says at the end of the day, people are dying by the thousands across North America, and the war on drugs has failed to do anything about it, or to stamp out organized crime.
He says in his day heading up the Vancouver Police Board, officers told him they were only ever able to catch about 2% of the drugs that make it to the street, and he doubts that’s changed much.
“We have to move in this direction because the other two alternatives of the war on drugs which we agree has just been a flop for many decades, or what I call wilful blindness… we can’t just wilfully be blind to the harms.”
Harcourt says there is no doubt that it’s a difficult conversation to have, with plenty of emotional crosscurrents.
But he says as uncomfortable as it is, the programs could save lives – and will save money.
“The costs just of breaking and entering just of people’s homes in Vancouver and their businesses, is probably half a billion dollars a year in terms of insurance, in terms of repairing your home, and having to deal with the emotional devastation,” he says.
But while he is calling for radical change, he’s not calling for a free drug market or blanket legalization.
“I’m not sure that walking into a drug store and saying give me my prescription for heroin is the way to go either, but I think we need to look at some of the successes in the world like Portugal where they have regularized drugs and had very positive impact on courts, and costs, and the impact that people stealing from your house and stealing from your businesss has,” he says.
Alternately, he points to the Crosstown Clinic in the Downtown Eastside, the only facility in North America offering prescription heroin and a similar Swiss experiment currently underway.
“And the whole idea is to get heroin that’s clean, but bring people off of it. It’s not sort of keep doing it all your life.”
He says the Swiss program has successfully guided 71% of addicts off the drug.
“So what I’m suggesting is let’s cherry pick the best programs in the world, to look at, and to have a dialogue about.”