Afghanistan and Vancouver's Downtown Eastside

Taylor and I published this op-ed in today’s Toronto Star. It is not often that one can show a direct link between our soldiers in Afghanistan and Canadians in downtown Vancouver.

We originally entitled the piece: From Kandahar to Carnegie – dealing with the opium trade at home and abroad a title I think sounds better. I suspect however that the Star justly felt the reference to the Carnegie Centre – the community centre that serves Vancouver’s downtown eastside – may have been to obscure, especially for Toronto readers.

Failed strategy connects Afghan fields, city streets

Dec 07, 2007 04:30 AM

David Eaves
Taylor Owen

In the coming months, under the leadership of the former U.S. ambassador to Colombia, U.S. private contractors will likely attempt to fumigate poppies in Afghanistan. Around the same time, the Canadian government will decide whether to shut down the Insite supervised injection site in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

The two policies are inextricably linked and unambiguously bad.

In April, the United States appointed William Wood, nicknamed “Chemical Bill,” its new ambassador to Afghanistan. In his previous post, Wood championed and oversaw the fumigation of large swaths of the Colombian countryside. The result? For every 67 acres sprayed, only one acre of coca was eradicated. Moreover, production increased by 36 per cent. In addition, the spraying negatively impacted legitimate crops, contaminated water supplies and increased respiratory infections among the exposed populations.

Wood is in Kabul for a single reason – to execute a similar plan in Afghanistan. Poppy production, once held in check by the Taliban government, is exploding – up 60 per cent in 2006. Poppies yield 10 times the value of wheat, so it is unsurprising that about 10 per cent of an otherwise impoverished Afghan population partakes in the illicit poppy harvest. It earns them upwards of $3 billion (U.S.) a year, or roughly 65 per cent of Afghan GDP.

The short-term economic costs and long-term development and health impacts of fumigation will be borne by those whose livelihoods are both directly and indirectly connected to poppy cultivation. Spraying could easily cause public opinion to turn against the Karzai administration and NATO forces, further compromising the mission and increasing the danger to Canadian soldiers.

Given the increased risks this policy poses to both our soldiers and the overall mission, the government’s silence is unconscionable. Others have not been so quiet. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown recently observed that there is little international support for fumigation. He announced an alternative policy to wean farmers off of opium, one that includes an ambitious plan to top up payments for legal crops, such as wheat.

Such policies, however, are only part of a long-term project. Success will require a holistic view, one that understands the connections between the consumption of illicit drugs in places like Vancouver and their cultivation in Afghanistan. Specifically, this means tackling the demand for opiates. Although 90 per cent of world heroin comes from Afghanistan, the vast majority is consumed in western countries. Blaming Afghan farmers for the problem is as hypocritical as it is ineffective.

Reducing the cultivation of poppies in Afghanistan begins not on the streets of Kandahar, but on the streets of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

Fortunately, such policies exist. Insite, Vancouver’s supervised injection site, offers a real first step toward reducing poppy cultivation. This small storefront provides drug users with a sanitary and safe place to inject in the presence of registered nurses. The result: 21 peer-reviewed studies document how Insite diminishes public drug use, reduces the spread of HIV and increases the number of users who enter detox programs.

But Insite does more than get drug use off the street. It is a portal into the health-care system for addicts who are too often shut out. Drug users who visit Insite are an astounding 33 per cent more likely to enlist in a detoxification program. Indeed, Insite has added a second facility, called Onsite, that capitalizes on this success by allowing drug users to immediately access detox and drug treatment services on demand.

Sadly, the Harper government remains ideologically opposed to Insite. It is unclear if the federal government possesses the legal authority to close the site but there is significant concern it will attempt to do so within six months.

The Conservatives should be looking to scale Insite nationally, not contemplating its closing. A national network of injection sites could dramatically reduce heroin use in Canada by channelling more drug users into drug treatment programs. Diminishing the demand for heroin would in turn devalue the poppies from which it is derived. Changing this economic equation is both safer and more effective than fumigation if the goal is shifting Afghan production from poppies to legal crops. Admittedly, Canada’s share of the global consumption of heroin is relatively small, but our success could provide a powerful and effective example to the international community.

To many Canadians, Afghanistan is a world away. But the lives of drug users outside Vancouver’s Carnegie Centre and those of our soldiers in Kandahar are bound together – linked by the international opium trade. What we do in Afghanistan shapes events in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, and vice versa. Canada’s soldiers, drug users and ordinary citizens deserve a government that recognizes this reality.


David Eaves is a frequent commentator on public policy. Taylor Owen is a doctoral student and Trudeau Scholar at the University of Oxford.

16 thoughts on “Afghanistan and Vancouver's Downtown Eastside

  1. Pingback: Remarkk! » Failed strategy connects Afghan fields, city streets

  2. Fred Bracken

    You lied in your article.

    The opium from Afghanistan DOES NOT come to Canada.

    You should have known that.

    It goes to Europe.

    Why would you lie?

    The heroin that comes to Canada is RED TAR from Mexico and south America.

    Again, WHY WOULD YOU LIE IN YOUR ARTICLE.

    There is no CONNECTION between Afghan opium and Canada.

    Please learn the facts before you spew your leftist rhetoric.

    The safe injection site is government run operation to do drugs.

    The government should not be paying people to do drugs.

    Period.

    Here is the link.

    http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2007/08/f58f6951-ad74-4996-bbb3-50fa2dcd7112.html

    Here is a quote for ya.

    “August 28, 2007 (RFE/RL) — The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates that the latest opium poppy crop in Afghanistan will yield an amazing 8,200 tons of opium — an increase of some 2,000 tons on the previous crop.

    The country’s surging drug output appears not to be destined for the markets of Europe and North America, but instead for Afghanistan’s neighbors. Observers warn that the trend threatens to pull neighboring states into the vicious cycle of drug dependence.”

    So now, the Afghan opium is not even going to Europe, but to Afghan neighboring states.

    Get your facts right before you print such a ridiculous article in the leftist organ named the Red Star.

    Reply
  3. Fred Bracken

    You lied in your article.The opium from Afghanistan DOES NOT come to Canada.You should have known that.It goes to Europe.Why would you lie?The heroin that comes to Canada is RED TAR from Mexico and south America.Again, WHY WOULD YOU LIE IN YOUR ARTICLE.There is no CONNECTION between Afghan opium and Canada.Please learn the facts before you spew your leftist rhetoric.The safe injection site is government run operation to do drugs.The government should not be paying people to do drugs.Period.Here is the link.http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2007/08/f5…Here is a quote for ya.”August 28, 2007 (RFE/RL) — The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates that the latest opium poppy crop in Afghanistan will yield an amazing 8,200 tons of opium — an increase of some 2,000 tons on the previous crop.The country’s surging drug output appears not to be destined for the markets of Europe and North America, but instead for Afghanistan’s neighbors. Observers warn that the trend threatens to pull neighboring states into the vicious cycle of drug dependence.”So now, the Afghan opium is not even going to Europe, but to Afghan neighboring states.Get your facts right before you print such a ridiculous article in the leftist organ named the Red Star.

    Reply
    1. The Blackbird

      If Afghanistan produces upwards of 90% of the world’s opium supply and Canada is over there fighting to secure terrain abundant with poppies, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to do the math, Fred. What you’ve been reading are lies.

      Reply
  4. Taylor Owen

    Opium, like oil, is a resource, which trades, and is thus distributed, on an international ‘market’. Flooding a market with a resource has direct implications for all that consume the resource, not just those that literally consume the batch of the export in question. Purity of the heroin in Vancouver has increased since the boom in Afghan production. The two are linked.

    We have to look in the mirror, at the demand side of this problem, rather than blaming, and prosecuting, the impoverished farmers feeding our addictions.

    Reply
  5. Taylor Owen

    Opium, like oil, is a resource, which trades, and is thus distributed, on an international ‘market’. Flooding a market with a resource has direct implications for all that consume the resource, not just those that literally consume the batch of the export in question. Purity of the heroin in Vancouver has increased since the boom in Afghan production. The two are linked. We have to look in the mirror, at the demand side of this problem, rather than blaming, and prosecuting, the impoverished farmers feeding our addictions.

    Reply
  6. David Eaves Post author

    Fred,

    Thank you for your comment. I would like to direct you back to the link you posted. It actually links Afghanistan opium directly to markets like Vancouver.

    About 10 lines later:

    “Afghanistan is now the source of some 95 percent of the opiates reaching the big world markets, meaning mainly North America and Europe.”

    Your selectively pulled quote is not in reference to Afghan opium generally, but to the increased production of the last few months. Afghanistan already supplies North America with all the Opium it needs. It is the newer excess production that is going to Asia – not the entire crop.

    While I understand that you don’t agree with us, the charge of lying and/or misleading the public is a serious one. Please make sure you read the entire article you cite before making such a claim.

    Reply
  7. David Eaves

    Fred,Thank you for your comment. I would like to direct you back to the link you posted. It actually links Afghanistan opium directly to markets like Vancouver. About 10 lines later:”Afghanistan is now the source of some 95 percent of the opiates reaching the big world markets, meaning mainly North America and Europe.”Your selectively pulled quote is not in reference to Afghan opium generally, but to the increased production of the last few months. Afghanistan already supplies North America with all the Opium it needs. It is the newer excess production that is going to Asia – not the entire crop. While I understand that you don’t agree with us, the charge of lying and/or misleading the public is a serious one. Please make sure you read the entire article you cite before making such a claim.

    Reply
  8. AC

    Fred, who’s the real liar here? Vancouver’s safe injection site (InSite) is not a government run operation to do drugs, nor does it involve paying anybody to do drugs. InSite is a government run facility where IV drug addicts can come use clean gear in a safe environment. The safe injection site has been proven to cut down on the spread of HIV/AIDS and other diseases related to needle-sharing, and has cut down on the amount of fatal overdoses. It also helps to keep addicts from shooting up in the streets and leaving needles lying around. InSite has been nothing but beneficial for Vancouver’s East Downtown, and there’s reliable evidence to back that statement up. How about you actually use your head and think next time before spewing a bunch of crap about something you obviously know nothing about.

    Reply
  9. AC

    Fred, who’s the real liar here? Vancouver’s safe injection site (InSite) is not a government run operation to do drugs, nor does it involve paying anybody to do drugs. InSite is a government run facility where IV drug addicts can come use clean gear in a safe environment. The safe injection site has been proven to cut down on the spread of HIV/AIDS and other diseases related to needle-sharing, and has cut down on the amount of fatal overdoses. It also helps to keep addicts from shooting up in the streets and leaving needles lying around. InSite has been nothing but beneficial for Vancouver’s East Downtown, and there’s reliable evidence to back that statement up. How about you actually use your head and think next time before spewing a bunch of crap about something you obviously know nothing about.

    Reply
  10. Ada

    Indeed the government needs to recognise this reality and do more in Canada to show people they are funding terrorism by supplying opium. Opiate addiction is very nasty, I can only hope more progress will eventually be made in Afghanistan. If those supplying opium to people on the streets could be encouraged to help the government cut of the supply and help track down the suppliers it could really change this battle.

    Reply
  11. Alexandra

    Drugs and terrorism are and will always be linked. It’s such a shame to see the government standing aside and not do anything specific about it! They don’t even finance drug rehabs or any other help for the addicts. Somehow I think that drug on the street doesn’t found only the terrorism, but the government as well.

    Reply
  12. Alexandra

    Drugs and terrorism are and will always be linked. It’s such a shame to see the government standing aside and not do anything specific about it! They don’t even finance drug rehabs or any other help for the addicts. Somehow I think that drug on the street doesn’t found only the terrorism, but the government as well.

    Reply
  13. The Blackbird

    Hey Fred,Afghanistan now produces more than 90% of the worlds opium supply. In the year 2000, Afghanistan exported 450 tonnes of opium. In 2007, after six years of allied occupation, that number rose – as we have read here – to 8200 tonnes. If you believe that the massive amount of opium that feeds Canadian addicts' habits doesn't come from Afghanistan when we've been over there fighting in the toughest areas, you need a reality check.

    Reply

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