xʷməθkʷəy̓əm, sḵwx̱wú7mesh & səlilwətaɬ lands Vancouver, BC | November 3, 2023
Last week’s police raid and arrests of Drug User Liberation Front (DULF) members in Vancouver have triggered an outpouring of local, national, and international support for DULF and the urgent expansion of nonmedical safe supply in response to the ongoing unregulated drug crisis.
Building on a series of safe supply protest actions, DULF launched a compassion club in 2022 to offer non-prescription safe supply to 43 people at risk from the unregulated drug market. After a year of operation, the compassion club’s preliminary findings showed significant health and safety benefits for members. DULF’s intervention demonstrates a viable grassroots model to address the devastating consequences of the unregulated drug market, led by people who use drugs.
The necessity of DULF’s nonmedical safe supply framework was affirmed this week with the release of the BC Coroners Service Death Review Panel Report: An Urgent Response to a Continuing Crisis. The report calls on the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions to seek a federal exemption for opioid and stimulant drug access without a prescription. “The consensus of the panel is that with a proper system of checks and balances in place, the substances can be provided in a safe and responsible manner,” said Michael Egilson, chair of the death review panel.
The criminalization of DULF has ignited widespread national and international support. Communities in Toronto, Vancouver and Victoria held public solidarity rallies today, with an event planned in Ottawa for Sunday. These rallies in support of DULF advocate for the scaling up of community-based compassion clubs, rather than criminalization.
“Governments and police are scapegoating those bold enough to disobey unjust laws and save lives – like our DULF colleagues. We didn’t set out to be outlaws. But we realized that nobody was coming to save us, so we’ll have to save ourselves.” said Garth Mullins, host of Crackdown Podcast and community organizer.
An open letter in support of DULF has received endorsements from over 200 organizations and 1,700 individuals. The letter calls for the immediate halt to criminalization of community-regulated safe supply, restoration of DULF funding, and a formalized commitment to create a framework to uphold and protect community-regulated safe supply in BC.
“Businesses are seeking solutions that keep their staff, operations and neighbours safe,” said Euan Thomson, letter signatory and executive director of EACH+EVERY, a national coalition of businesses supporting harm reduction approaches to unregulated drug poisoning. “It’s well past time that grassroots initiatives led by people who use drugs were provided the space to operate without being criminalized.”
DULF’s small, community-led model of safe supply, has demonstrated how access to safety-tested drugs with known potency and contents can reduce overdose, keep people alive, reduce hospitalizations and stabilize lives. DULF’s work has support from leading researchers, physicians and health care providers, public health officials, and community groups.
“People in places of institutional power and policy-making must not hide behind the word illegal. Instead, they must focus on the law and policy that forces people and organizations like DULF to take action at great personal risk,” said DJ Larkin, executive director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition. “A compassion club that is saving lives every day is only illegal because the law and policy is unjust.”
In the words of members of the DULF Compassion Club, “We speak out in support of their actions with DULF, actions that opened up possibilities for us, for our community, and for drug users and people everywhere. The possibility to stay alive, and even to thrive. Today our survival hangs by a thread.”
Jessica Hannon for Canadian Drug Policy Coalition
Euan Thomson, executive director, EACH+EVERY
About the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition:
Founded in 2010, the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition works in partnership with more than 60 organizations and 7,000 individuals working to support the development of a drug policy for Canada that is based in science, guided by public health principles, respectful of the human rights of all, and seeks to include people who use drugs and those harmed by the war on drugs in moving towards a healthier society. Learn more at www.drugpolicy.ca