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Harm Reduction: Vancouver may be next to endorse Vienna Declaration

 Megaphone (Canada) 25 October 2019

Vancouver may be endorsing the highly talked about Vienna Declaration—a document that advocates harm reduction policies over law enforcement of illegal drug use—according to city councilor Kerry Jang. (627 Words) - By Katie Dangerfield

Megaphone_Harm Reduction

A woman injects heroine. Photo: Wishbobe

The proposal for the Vienna Declaration will reach city council at the end of September, where it will then be debated and voted on.

"I'm putting a motion in council to sign onto the Declaration," says Jang. "I'm hoping the vote will be unanimous."

Vancouver isn't the first city to consider ratifying the Declaration. On September 9, a unanimous vote by city council meant Victoria joined Toronto in adopting it. The two cities are the first in Canada to discard the traditional 'war on drugs' stance on illicit drug use and have since formed a science- and fact-based method when dealing with drugs.

The two cities are part of a larger international initiative to create a public health system based on scientific evidence on the criminalization of drugs.

"The Declaration is drafted as an international call to treat drug addictions like any other addictions in society-using scientific evidence," says UBC professor Dr. Evan Wood, one of the Vienna Declaration's authors.

The Declaration started in July 2010 in Vienna during this year's AIDS conference. Nearly 17,000 academics, scientists and politicians signed onto the document, including the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and the Canadian Public Health Association. This symbolized the endorsement of a new stance on illicit drugs and the problems that surround it. The Declaration deems the dependence on drug law enforcement results in negative health and social issues, such as the spread of HIV. Therefore, it seeks to advance community health and safety, decriminalize drug users, promote addiction treatments such a methadone and establish safe injection sites.

Wood said the Declaration was drafted in Eastern Europe as a response to the high level of HIV in the surrounding region. For example, in Russia nearly one in every 100 adults is HIV infected, largely because of the war on drugs approach and the prohibited use of methadone (a method widely used in drug rehabilitation).

"By signing on, it creates a strong message to the Canadian government that the war on drugs is not working," says Wood. "The federal government has taken an ideological view on the war on drugs."

Toronto and Victoria's adoption of science-based evidence on illicit drug use is contrary to the Canadian government's stance on the issue. The Conservative's tough stance on drugs and increased law enforcement is exactly why the government has fought to close Vancouver's Insite, Canada's only legal safe-injection site, which also advocates the use of clean needle exchange.

Jang says Vancouver's implementation of Insite seems to run parallel to the ideology of the Vienna Declaration-reduction of harm over the legal enforcement. "It's what keeps Insite open. The research is clear, it saves lives and reduces HIV rates. This is hard data that is hard to ignore," says Jang.

Although many are advocating for the Declaration, Aiyanas Ormond, community organizer of Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU) believes it is missing key components.

"There are missing pieces, such as talking about respecting and empowering people using drugs, and letting people who use drugs help lead it," says Ormond.

He says that what will actually help push forward something such as the Vienna Declaration will entail active and organized drug users to have a voice in the process. Ormond believes no group of people can actually have liberation unless they play the leading role, something the Vienna Declaration lacks.

"We [VANDU] certainly support it, but have concerns about what isn't there, such as letting drug users have a say," says Ormond.

Originally published by Megaphone, Canada. ©


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