This is the first feature in a three-part series diving into aspects of the opioid pandemic, the overdose crisis, whatever you wish to call it. It is a public health crisis which became exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Canada’s Public Health database, there was a 95 percent increase in apparent opioid toxicity deaths from April 2020 to March 2021, with a total of 7,224 deaths, compared to 3,711 deaths from April 2019 to March 2020. Since then, deaths have remained high.
These statistics were published in March 2022 and only went as far as September 2021, but by that point, 5,368 apparent opioid toxicity deaths had occurred. This is approximately 20 deaths per day. For a similar timeframe in the years before the pandemic, there were between 7 in 2016 and 12 in 2018 deaths per day.
Several factors may have contributed to a worsening of the overdose crisis throughout the pandemic, including the increasingly toxic drug supply, increased feelings of isolation, stress and anxiety, and changes in the availability or accessibility of services for people who use drugs.
With Jeremy Kalicum, Eris Nyx co-founded the Drug User Liberation Front (DULF), a public policy change advocacy organization that has found itself moving more into putting clean drug distribution into practice because they are frustrated by the Government of Canada’s lack of action when it comes to the opioid crisis.
Formed in response to the ever-mounting overdose deaths in British Columbia and across Canada, the DULF is stepping up to offer solutions to the opioid crisis.
“We are an organized collective of people who use drugs, empowered to make change through direct action, courage and conviction, and fueled by the memories of the countless friends, families, and loved ones whose lives have been taken by an unjust, broken system of laws and policies,” states a DULF media release.
Nyx also has a background in the arts.
“I’m the president of the Black Lab Arts Society, a venue at Main and Hastings in Vancouver,” she said. “I’ve done a bunch of work to put out compilation albums of street musicians in the neighbourhood.”
She has worked in harm reduction because she can’t support herself off her art.
“I have a background, experience and a relationship with the community,” said Nyx.
Nyx, who relocated to Vancouver from the suburbs of Toronto, has used drugs since 13.
She notes that the overdose crisis has hit British Columbia particularly hard, and so far, it’s the only province with a publicly declared public health emergency.
“Ostensibly, what has happened in BC is the opiate supply has gradually been replaced with stronger and stronger and stronger synthetic opiates,” said Nyx. “Because of COVID, you get this balloon effect where Fentanyl becomes harder to import, so people start using Benzodiazepine.”
Working the frontline of harm reduction in Canada’s neighbourhood most affected by the opioid pandemic, she has seen people who have shot Benzos walking around naked with no idea how they are missing all their stuff.
“You just go into this blackout state,” said Nyx. “It’s really bad. I live right down the street from Main and Hastings, so I’m responding to an overdose daily. It’s brutal.”
Despite the overdoses she attends, she has no intention of stopping doing drugs.
“I guess I’m more like a motorhead,” said Nyx. “I take speed all day, and I work 20-hour days, and then I take downers to sleep, and then I crash.”
From her perspective, public education about drugs is lacking because it sticks to a ‘drugs are bad’ narrative. Studies have shown that alcohol-related harms are rising in Canada, but it’s regulated.
“Why?” asked Nyx. “Because when we imposed prohibition, organized crime increased enormously in power, and the toxicity of the alcohol supply skyrocketed.”
In 2019, after being laid off from the British Columbia Center for Disease Control, Nyx was hired to organize a conference on “safe supply.”
“I’ve worked for the government, and the government has blacklisted me,” she said. “Now I’m not blacklisted in this hilarious twist of fate because I’ve been right the whole time … I told them your prohibition-based framework is killing everyone we know, and you guys can fix it, and you are not doing that, and you are basically murderers, and they dismissed me for being abusive towards the other staff.”
DULF wants to see regulated drugs available so that people know what they are putting into their bodies and the risk of overdose death is nullified.
“We are not advocating people do drugs,” said Nyx. “We are saying if people do drugs, they should be able to know what they are putting into their bodies, so they don’t kill themselves.”
DULF has done episodic compassion clubs to provide clean, tested drugs to screened local drug users over 18.
A pilot project planned for July will only be a drop in the bucket when looking at the scope of the need for a safe drug supply.
“We can only support 12 people because we’re trafficking $250,000 worth of illegal narcotics per annum to support them with no government protection,” said Nyx.
Although the federal government in Ottawa has not stepped up to support the initiative, representatives from Vancouver organizations close to this crisis have offered support. Letters of support for the work DULF is doing from Vancouver Coastal Health, Fair Price Pharma Inc, Department of Medicine, University of British Columbia, CATIE, Victoria Safer Initiative, Moms Stop the Harm, BC Centre on Substance Use, Canadian Drug Policy Coalition. PHS Community Services Society, First Nations Health Authority, BC Green Party and Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart accompanied a Section 56 Exemption Request.
“It’s monumental,” said Nyx. “I’m an artist and didn’t want to be involved in public policy. I started working in the shelter system because it pays well, and I can work two shifts a week and live in this 8 ft by 8 ft room for $300 per month and do whatever I want.”
Now she is working 80 hours per week trying to sue the Canadian government because, from DULF’s perspective, drug policy and legislation have caused a genocidal catastrophe for people who use drugs.
“Every week, somebody I know dies,” she said. “Down here, it’s a fucking killing field. They are mopping the floor with people.”
Nyx spoke to the illegality of the action they are doing to get safe, tested drugs to people.
“I don’t care,” she said. “I sent the Federal government a signed Affidavit that says I’m trafficking drugs, and I am doing the right thing. If my friends are doing drugs, I want them to know what they are taking.”
DULF is not making any money trafficking drugs.
“We are not criminals,” said Nyx. “We buy drugs. We buy an once of cocaine and test it for purity rigorously using multiple types of testing; Immunoassay, Fourier Transform Infrared, Mass Spectrometry, and Nuclear Magnetic Resonance. Then once we have done all that and are 99.9 percent sure we know what the drugs are, we box them in boxes that you can tell if they have been opened. Label them and then sell them at cost. All of this is crowd-sourced … we take your money, go on the dark web, use cryptocurrency, buy drugs, get the drugs, test the drugs, and then redistribute them without making any profit.”
She points out that to their knowledge, no one has ever overdosed off the drugs DULF distributes.
“Zero,” said Nyx. “Fatally or non-fatally.”
She returns to the idea that the crisis is caused by the toxicity of the drugs, a lack of public education and no labelling.
“Imagine walking into a liquor store, and every bottle was blank and opaque, and some bottles and cans had methanol, some cans had vodka, and some vodka bottles had beer in them, and then you just have to drink it.” Said Nyx. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
She said it is a market people will access regardless of whether they are told it is good or bad, so it needs to be regulated.
“I don’t want to be involved in bureaucratic Kafkaesque public policy, but I will be if I have to be because I am watching everyone I know die,” said Nyx.
As a final test, she does the drugs personally before they are distributed to ensure they are what the label says.
“It’s about moderation, not overdoing it, not being a fucking idiot,” said Nyx. “It’s like when you watch young drinkers, and they are just slamming back liquor, and you are like, ‘you are going to be pissing your pants in the corner of the venue in ten minutes from now.’
DULF only distributes to people they know through drug user groups.
“I guess there is a lot of this that I think is very BC-centric, and a lot of it is very Vancouver-centric,” she said. “In Vancouver, there are by and for drug user groups and what I mean is they are non-profits that drug users run, they have a board of directors, and they are all people who do drugs, and the membership is all people who use drugs and membership is screened to ensure they are using drugs when they join.”
DULF mainly works with the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), The Coalition of Peers Dismantling the Drug War, Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society and the British Columbia Association of People on Opiate Maintenance.
“The community down here is very close-knit.” Said Nyx. “So it’s not like we are going outside a school and giving away the drugs. It’s very communitarian because there are meetings and protocol, people are talking, data, and follow-up and research. Hence, the education component comes in with that community building.”
In her experience, most people who use drugs use them unproblematically, just like most people who drink don’t have drinking problems.
“I think the narrative around drug use is all messed up,” she said. “It’s the social framework of your society that makes people do or not do drugs, and a lot of it comes with poverty and trauma.”
In her opinion, Nyx said, “drugs are fucking awesome, man.”
“I love cocaine,” she said. “I wish it weren’t such a conflict resource and a problematic thing, but I wish oil weren’t a problematic thing either. There are things you consume. Food, clothing. It’s all fucked up. Yes, we should regulate these industries better, but the thing is not to be like, cocaine is bad, so don’t do it. It’s awesome, and that’s just my opinion on the drug. Different strokes for different folks. Some people like smoking weed, and others say it makes them a paranoid, neurotic mess. Whatever you enjoy doing helps you live an authentic and healthy life. I feel like if I didn’t do drugs, I would go so crazy living in this fucking hell state dystopia.”
Nyx believes the stigma that causes people to hide drug use is dangerous.
“All drugs are the same, and it’s your relationship with the drugs that becomes the problem or other people’s attitudes towards doing drugs because if everyone is like ‘drugs are bad,” you are not going to want to talk if you do have a problem,” she said.
Nyx plays in the band Dust Blaster.
“Our lyrical content, stage and media presence is very controversial,” she said. “There is a lot of rhetoric about the legalization of drugs, and it’s not something people want to talk about in music. I feel like some East Coast hip-hop groups, Benny the Butcher, and Conway the Machine, are talking about drugs in a real way, but it is also from the perspective of being a drug dealer. Some people do warning songs – don’t do drugs, but no one is examining the issue.”
“At the end of the day, I see how people treat people using drugs around them. It is with this stigmatizing kind of gaze. Especially in the music community. It’s like, don’t do coke in our bathroom, but I’m like, I want to know if people are doing coke in my venue’s bathroom, so if they are not out of the bathroom in five minutes, I can go and check on them, so they don’t fucking die. What, you want them to do coke in an alley behind the place in the dark? Stop stigmatizing drug use. Learn to use naloxone and keep your friends safe if they use drugs. People use drugs for all kinds of reasons, and if you think your friend has a chaotic relationship with drugs, they are stealing to support their habit, or they are doing dangerous sex work – check in with them and come together as a community. Run a GoFundMe and be like, our friend is in trouble – it’s easy. My god, it’s 2022.”
Consider supporting wood-stein.ca to keep the ideas flowing! Become a Patron!
6 thoughts on “Drug User Liberation Front saves lives by distributing clean meth, cocaine and heroin”