Canada, Ethnic Studies and the World

Edited and Interviewed by Stanley Lee

Here’s the background of how the interview with Ann Livingston of the Overdose Prevention Society materialized.


As the mainstream media began to increase its coverage of the fentanyl overdose deaths across Canada, but primarily in Vancouver, my curiosity led me to watch existing documentaries on it in both Canada and the United States.


Government at all levels appear to be showing different kinds of grandstanding.


At the city level, the Vision Vancouver-governed city council (along with the support from the Green Party) approved to raise a “fentanyl tax” in order to take action on the situation without waiting for the senior levels of government. The Non-Partisan Association (NPA) argued against it out of the tax hikes and “lack of consultation”. In this interview, you’ll be surprised to hear the criticism of the city budget on many levels.


At the provincial level, this is molding into a potential election issue for the 2017 general election. The BC Liberal government on some level is correctly blamed for the funding cuts to health care, but they deserve credit for listening to the chief public health officer’s advice to declare a public health emergency as the fentanyl overdose situation became out of control. Once that happened, the party sent the most senior ministers to survey the situation, including the outgoing health minister Terry Lake and the premier herself at times. The BC Liberal Government made a lot of announcements and got the ministry bureaucrats to publish reports on a regular basis. The opposition’s argument about the nature of the funding is debatable, but voters’ ability to dig through this detail is doubtful.


The opposition party in the provincial legislature, the BC New Democrats, repeatedly criticized the shortfalls on the health care infrastructure. I have spoken to Selina Robinson to learn further about the issue from their points of view. While I acknowledge that they are more thoughtful on a policy level, from a comprehensive pain and trauma treatment strategy that avoids over-prescription of opioids to addiction treatment capacity increase and legislation, they are not doing the necessary electioneering (which the BC Liberals are experts in) to win the election and actually implement these positions. The interview will also touch upon how the BC NDP failed to respond to pleas for help from some overdose advocates.


The federal Liberal government also has had plenty of press events showing gestures of support. The federal Conservatives are using the rhetoric of street drug proliferation to debate against more drug treatment that doesn’t involve abstinence. The federal New Democrats are criticizing the federal government for its smoke and mirrors. The problem lies on whether the public see this topic as a dog whistle or smoke-and-mirrors as more and more young people die from using fentanyl because it’s laced in an opioid substitute or recreational drug to attain euphoria.


One thing to note is that both the federal Liberal and BC Liberal governments are aggressively buying online advertising to promote the negative effects of fentanyl and how awesome wonders naloxone works to treat overdose. They are likely to receive brownie points for advertising harm reduction to the unsuspecting eye, but advocates remain furious at the lack of proper and legal treatment options, as well as the role big money in pharmaceutical and mainstream media plays in this crisis.


Enjoy the interview.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 3


0:00 – how she got involved with reducing drug overdose in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside

3:00 – her evaluation of government response to the fentanyl crisis at all levels

7:30 – is there a crisis?

8:25 – what’s wrong with existing treatment options?

11:12 – her beef with the real reason why the City of Vancouver raised property taxes

11:44 – trends of drug use

12:44 – are many of these “drug addicts” on welfare?

14:17 – how some addicts come to believe from the streets using fentanyl with crystal meth is safer

17:03 – psychological consequences of having welfare cut off

18:23 – discussion of substitution program

19:36 – how the Welfare Act policy changes suppressed applications and increased crimes

20:35 – lack of MSP coverage for the drug users

22:38 – how you get billed for emergency vehicles when renewing driver’s license

23:24 – how homelessness creates addiction

24:24 – majority of “career criminals” in police report history

25:00 – how the welfare system work with the prison in the “Good Old Days”

26:18 – how the city of Seattle acted on their own drug overdose crisis to be a model studied by others

28:00 – how the long-time negligence led to overdose deaths of young people experimenting with recreational drugs

32:00 – beneficiaries of the status quo and the problem of naloxone treatments

38:50 – incentives of law enforcement to work as a team to solve the epidemic

43:00 – why she thinks the BC NDP has no incentives to help the drug addicts

45:00 – what the biggest line item of the City of Vancouver budget is

47:25 – comments on the Seattle Public Health department

50:15 – public perception of the problem

51:05 – how the “right-wing” NPA administrations had better harm reduction policies

54:00 – why many detox programs don’t work

55:50 – thoughts on the advertising that the provincial and federal governments are buying (and the evasiveness of the BC NDP about the issue)

60:24 – the problem of abstinence detox

66:27 – level of public awareness on existing spending with the street drug problem

67:34 – why the city council isn’t scrutinizing the police force spending

73:26 – comparison between spending money on enforcement and first responders rather than proper welfare and treatment for the drug addicts (tl;dr: many reports quote the cost ratio to be 10:1 or 7:1)

83:30 – problem of current underground treatment houses

84:31 – who are the drug addicts’ advocate politically?

91:22 – reason for the change in the Welfare Act policy


Book recommendations:

The Unbroken Brain by Maia Szalavitz