TWO WELFARE WEDNESDAYS A MONTH: Would that cut down on Cheque Day overdoses?

Commentary

WOULD TWO (or more) WELFARE WEDNESDAYS A MONTH
CUT DOWN ON CHEQUE DAY OVERDOSE SYNDROME?

*The BC Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU) and other agencies are studying whether changing when and how often social assistance is paid will benefit individual health and safety, decrease drug-related harm and decrease demand on police, health and social workers.

*The CROWS editor was thrown out of a Cheque Day Study public meeting after Canada’s “most famous junkie” Dean Wilson asked for the meeting to be held in total secrecy. Protestors asking for a vote were overruled.

*The BCCSU states: “A range of unintentional drug-related harms have been linked to coordinated government cheque issue, including sharp increases in drug use, overdose, emergency room visits, leaving hospital against medical advice, medical treatment interruption and street disorder. Increased activity around cheque issue also places significant demands on health, social, police and financial service providers.”

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By David Beattie
CROWS Editor

About 50 people from a dozen high-profile DTES organizations answered the call to attend a public discussion meeting on the problem of Welfare Wednesday syndrome October 2, with controversy erupting at the outset as the media was ordered to leave.

A man by the name of Dean Wilson hates THE CROWS magazine and its editor David Beattie (this writer) since we revealed, in early 2016, his motivation to use a “drug niche” to make money for himself and his entourage, and for later revealing his hypocrisy for living in the upscale social housing at SFU Woodwards, a building vilified by many of his fellow activists as the worst “gentrification” offender (See full report below).

After all attendees had introduced themselves Wilson stood to ask if Beattie was attending as a DTES resident or as a news reporter, and when he heard the answer “both” he moved a motion that the meeting be held entirely “off the record.” After some discussion and a few individuals saying they had nothing to hide, Beattie left.

Wilson and Beattie have history. In June 2016 Wilson confronted Beattie in the street outside the Woodwards building on Abbott Street and screamed at him, calling him a “fucking goof.” Wilson works for the Portland Hotel Society, and is thus a public employee paid out of taxes. He is very proud of being considered “Canada’s most famous junkie.” (See reports below, Vancouver Courier and Metro Vancouver paper).

So, denied an opportunity to attend a public meeting in a public space, attended by social service professionals being paid by the public purse, THE CROWS can only rely on information online to inform our readers.

The website at ‘http://www.cfenet.ubc.ca/research/urban-health-research-initiative/tasa-cheque-day-study/about‘ states: “The study is being conducted in partnership with Pigeon Park Savings, a community branch of VanCity Savings and Credit Union operated by the PHS Community Services Society. Pigeon Park Savings will coordinate the disbursement of funds for intervention … arm participants through specialized individual accounts developed specifically for the study (sic).”

It reads: “The desirable outcome of the study is to decrease individual drug use and drug-related harm coinciding with government cheque issue.”

“The study is sponsored by grants from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and a Providence Health Care Research Institute (PHCRI) and Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute (VCHRI) joint Innovation and Translational Award funded by the PHCRI. It has been approved by the University of British Columbia/Providence Health Care Research Ethics Board.”

In other background the website says: “The study will assess which income assistance disbursement schedule most effectively mitigates escalations in drug use and drug-related harm associated with synchronized monthly disbursement arrangements.

Recruitment began in Autumn 2015 for people living in Vancouver who receive provincial income assistance, report drug use around cheque day, and who are willing to receive their social assistance on an alternative schedule for a period of six months. Study HQ is 611 Powell Street, in the Downtown Eastside.

“Eligible, consenting participants will be randomised into a control group that receives their assistance on regular cheque issue days or one of two intervention groups. The first intervention group will receive their social assistance monthly, on a randomly assigned day that does not fall during government cheque week. The second group will receive their assistance twice a month on days that do not fall during government cheque issue week. Assistance disbursement schedules for participants in the intervention arms will be coordinated by Pigeon Park Savings.

“Participants will be enrolled in the study for approximately 26 weeks (6-7 months), with follow-up research visits to collect data on drug use, drug-related harm and service utilization every two weeks during this time. All participants will receive study honoraria for their time completing bi-weekly questionnaires about drug use, drug-related harm and service utilization.”

In answer to to the online question: “Won’t people just change the days that they increase their drug use, it says: “Past studies have identified both an individual level effect, where income payments of all kinds can serve as a cue for intensified drug and alcohol use, and a collective effect, where this cue is magnified when receipt is synchronized across the population.

There are harms associated with each, and the study seeks to examine whether the negative impacts from both effects can be reduced by changing income assistance schedules. Additionally, the service demands on emergency departments and other health, social, police and financial service providers are particularly impacted by the collective effect of coordinated cheque issue, and distributing these demands across the month may support service providers whether or not individuals reduce their drug use.”

*http://www.metronews.ca/news/toronto/2016/03/14/canadas-most-famous-addict-on-supervised-injection-sites.html

*http://www.vancourier.com/news/downtown-eastside-canada-s-most-famous-junkie-comes-clean-1.870158

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Report in THE CROWS June 2016. By editor and co-publisher David Beattie

“I was walking along Abbott Street between West Hastings and Cordova the other day, Tuesday June 7 to be precise, outside Woodwards, when a man saw me and then shouted at me, screamed at me actually, really loudly: “You fucking goof.”

I was taken aback before I realized who it was. Dean Wilson, one of Canada’s main activists against the War on Drugs. He’s the guy who pretty much got InSite created, having pioneered a similar supervised injection site on Carrall Street before InSite was opened. He and his former partner Anne Livingston invented InSite and created VANDU, the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users.

(So why was Mr Wilson so furious at me, yelling at me in the street outside Woodwards, where he lives in the social housing part? Because I reported on what he said in a meeting he was leading, a meeting he claims was private but which was and still is clearly not. The meeting was in premises paid for by taxes and operated by staff paid for by taxes, and anybody is allowed to attend the meeting he addressed. That means it is public and it is fair game to report on what is said there, indeed it is the media’s fucking DUTY to report on stuff like that, but that is another report for another day.

All of PHS and its subsection the “Drug Users’ Resource Society” has a serious problem understanding their relationship to the citizenry actually, a problem that got their two earlier leaders into very very serious trouble, pilloried far and wide. You would have thought they had learned a lesson but apparently not.

But I digress, back to what I was talking about earlier. I know, imagine our surprise, what with four BC ‘Liberal’ Party governments in a row, that we are still stuck back in Neanderthalia when it comes to treatment of drug addicts.

I am tracing the recent history that led to Dean Wilson screaming abuse at me in the street. The BC government, through Vancouver Coastal Health, had two months earlier yanked a major contract from the place where Dean Wilson works part time and given it to a rival agency. Wilson gives a weekly presentation at the Drug Users’ Resource Centre, part of the Portland Hotel Society as stated above. Even though PHS spends MILLIONS of dollars of taxpayers money every year and was totally disgraced two years ago, it is still one of the most secretive organizations outside of North Korea. A law unto itself, many people still say.

Now, because the Drug Users’ Resource Centre or DURC as it is known feels it is doing the work of angels with Harm Reduction, and it pretty much is, it got ahead of itself and started allowing its ‘members’ to shoot up in the toilets – and elsewhere probably. We only know about the toilets.

And Dean Wilson was shooting his mouth off every place he felt the need to, like he did to me. When VHC announced it was taking DURC’s contract away and giving it to the Lookout Emergency Aid Society, Mr Wilson decided he needed to address his “Political Action Group” that meets at DURC every Tuesday. Ninety percent of the reason most of the users attend the group is to get their hands on the $3 stipend paid to people who attend any of the dozen or more groups DURC hosts every week.

So on April 5, five days after DURC had lost the $1 million or so contract to Lookout, Mr Wilson addressed members of the “Political Action Group.”

He started by talking about “naloxone” – the antidote to Fentanyl and heroin overdoses. It is also known by its brand name NarCan. Now it is to be sold in pharmacies, said Mr Wilson, people no longer needed prescriptions. He announced his plan to train more users in how to administer naloxone, and then in turn they would get paid $25 per head for training others how to administer it.

People were dying because, he declared, too many addicts themselves did not know how to inject themselves with naloxone and too few other non-addicts, or “straight johns” as he calls them, knew either. So that had to be changed.

“We demanded, and have active addicts in the InSite chill room” he said “active users are best at identifying people slipping into that condition only an active or former addict knows. Nodding out or falling out of the picture.”

He said in BC there are 14,000 people on methadone alone, the liquid substitute therapy for heroin and opioids, and the cost of that is astronomical – “I heard $44 million per year.”

Wilson said he believes the real numbers of opioid users in BC is much higher than generally known, in his opinion as many as 90,000. So no surprise that with Fentanyl out there and so much ignorance – deadly combination. “Some kid thinks he is getting an oxy pill but he is getting pure Fentanyl, he eats the green pill and does not know he is slipping away.

“We have a niche and we can make some money. We can help families and ‘straight johns’ to identify people in trouble. When they are labouring with breath. We can prevent waiting until they are on the ground and two minutes from death.”

DURC would register people who have been trained, he said. “I want to add to the training. Explain how they must keep them down until the Narcan takes effect. For someone who is junk sick, only thing on his mind is wanting to get high. Narcan only lasts 25 minutes. You could still have enough heroin in your body that if you used again, you could overdose.”

By this Wilson means if addicts are given too much Narcan the antidote is so powerful that when the patient comes round, they are in withdrawal and want to use again straight away.

“Nowadays with Fentanyl they have to give two shots of Narcan to antidote it, because it is so strong. And it is bringing people back slower.”

“Anyone trained should get $25 an hour for training others, not a $10 or $4 stipend. We can also do “train the trainer.” High school teachers should be trained how to do this. If we are training at $25 per head, and there are 14,000 teachers to train, there is some serious money at stake. There are so many markets, and many willing to pay $25 an hour for training. It takes one hour at most.”

Referring to DURC’s losing the contract, Wilson said he would be speaking to Andrew MacFarlane (Director, Mental Health and Addiction (Inner City) at VCH. “They have just taken what we have done and shopped it out. They are pissed at us because of our activism. But we have made them famous because of InSite. Now they turn their backs on us, but I understand. We rubbed their shit in their noses. But we want a guarantee that people who are served (DURC members) will continue to be served.”

He said DURC’s lease on the building at 412 East Cordova (Cordova and Dunlevy, south west side of Oppenheimer Park) ends in 2018. “We want it to stay open until then, they are paying anyway. PHS can transition some of these services into Lookout.”

The services DURC used to provide will be moved to a building just two blocks away, the Living Room, on Powell Street between Jackson and Princess. It is run by Lookout, and now serves only people with mental health challenges. The building is to be substantially renovated to accommodate both drug users and the mentally ill. (Note: It has now been renamed the Powell Street Getaway).

This has Mr Wilson worried: “People with heavy mental issues do not mesh with heavy drug users. They better treat drug users with dignity, we are citizens with the same fucking rights,” he told his full room at the DURC Political Action Group. “Don’t let doctors or cops tell you you are not as good as anyone else on this fucking planet. We are a bunch of people, that’s all we are, no more or no less.”

Exactly a week later, on April 12, Dean Wilson was talking to the Political Action Group once more, with updated news. “The successful bidders are Lookout. I can’t go to work for Lookout, so I’m out of work after 16 years. It is the community that counts. I have to eat crow.”

But DURC would still keep some of its programs, he said, such as Harm Reduction 101, the Political Action Group and the MAP program – Managed Alcohol Program. “I can’t see Lookout accepting those,” he said.

He went on: “The policies set there, at Lookout, are not best practice. BC CDC (Centre for Disease Control) sets the standards. We do needle distribution as opposed to exchange. KEYS (an earlier name for Lookout) demand one-for-one, and they only give out two to start. I would have HIV if those mofos had been in place when I was using.”

“Do you remember June in the wheelchair? She OD’d in the bathroom (at Lookout). Staff there said nobody touch her. Ten days later she was brain dead. It was 17 minutes until the ambulance came. Those paramedics were taught Narcan in this room.”

“You know Dave Murray, member of SNAP (Salome / Naomi Association of Patients) and leader of Vandu. He would go to the Surrey premises of Lookout, he would go on his own dime, (but when he tried to go in to help people) they said they would have him arrested for trespass.”

“We do not know what will become of this building, lease is up March 31, 2018. Why not stay here and continue with some of our programs?”

“We will not go backwards. We’ve been working since 1999. We want empirical data to show they (Living Room) are doing it properly. Mental health and addictions lumped together is like putting kids with brain cancer and maternity together.”

“In jail when they mix the two the mentally ill do the zombie dance, they do laps for ten years, the mentally ill suffer, the addicts kill them and hurt them and rob them.”

Wilson said DURC’s special Managed Alcohol Program is an example of the innovative approach that saves lives and money. He said DURC was “embraced” by Sharon Martin, after whom VCH’s special SMART Fund is named.

Sharon Martin was founding Director of Community and Public Involvement for the Vancouver/Richmond Health Board, one of the predecessors of Vancouver Coastal Health.

The VCH website says: “Sharon believed that communities understand their local issues and have the ability to create collective solutions. Combining her vision with her passionate belief in health promotion, Sharon gave voice and substance to actions to support individuals and communities in taking control of and improving their health through active participation in the design and delivery of health care services.”

The Managed Alcohol Program provides a limited quantity of beer or wine to alcoholics so severe they will drink “illicit” liquor such as mouthwash or hand sanitizer.

Wilson said one particular problem drinker was costing the taxpayers eight emergency visits and 12 interactions with police in an average month. “Cops get paid $85 an hour,” he noted. The total cost was worked out to $17,500 every month. MAP stopped that all completely, this man did not have any incidents for two months.

“The amalgamation (of services at the Living Room) is supposed to save $200,000 a year. But all the funding coming here is the Sharon Martin fund. We could use the money saved to add quality of life. Drop-ins. Come to talk to people so they don’t rob others.”

“Somebody whose life is so chaotic, we die at 58, damn near 20 years shorter. Give a 56-year-old man some quality of life at low cost, what’s wrong with that?

“We have to come together as a community.” Pause. “Nobody fights as hard for us as Dean” one man at the meeting said and everyone agreed. Wilson told those present they must come to talk to DURC staff if they were barred from the Living Room.

Six weeks later Dean Wilson was one of a half dozen prominent current and former hard drug users (he no longer uses) to address a full-day conference at St Paul’s Hospital. The main speaker was Dr Alex Walley, an assistant professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine and medical director of the Opioid Treatment Program, Boston Public Health Commission.

One of the first presentations was by the BC APOM, the Association for People On Methadone. Laura Shaver said one of the biggest problems these days is how the system cashes in on people like her and other former and current addicts. There is a fee to get anything and everything, and pharmacy workers and others often ruthlessly profiteer when they can. “We are constantly being goaded and profited from,” she told the 100 or more attendees.

Ms Shaver said the $44 million spent every year by the BC government on methadone is money going straight into the already fat pockets of pharmacy chains such as Save-On-Drugs, London Drugs, Shoppers and Safeway. There had to be a better way, she said, to save taxpayers’ money and make life easier for people who needed that medicine to stay alive and not use again.

Dean Wilson, sitting in the front row, chimed in at first chance. InSite was “all very well” he bellowed, but what about “meth-heads and crack-heads.” Why did they not get special help just because they used a different drug, he stated, pointing to “gaps in care” that keep people sick and constantly hustling.

Turning to the amalgamation at the Living Room, he said: “Most addicts in the DTES are emotionally scarred. Now they have DURC lumped together with Living Room but emotional issues are not mental health issues, and they should not be mixed up. It is too often that mental illness and addictions are conflated.”

Wilson said InSite should not just help users inject safely, but should actually provide the drug as well (The Crows agrees, see editorial elsewhere this issue, online). Users are dying at twice the rate of the HIV crisis of the late 1990s, he said.

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