The number of people dying from illicit drugs across Canada has reached record numbers in many provinces, while the opioid crisis has worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, health experts and advocacy groups have been urging the government for the implementation of safe supply programs in order to reduce the number of overdose-related deaths.
In his interview with CTV News, Jeremy Kalicum and Eris Nyx, founders of the Vancouver-based Drug User Liberation Front (DULF), stated that they purchase illicit drugs on the dark web in order to provide safe supply to individuals who use their service.
Specifically, DULF provides small amounts of tested illegal substances to pre-approved drug users as an alternative solution to toxic street drugs.
“We formed as a consumer protection initiative that’s designed to protect people who use drugs. We formed to provide people with a predictable supply of whatever substance they choose to use. We believe this, and have shown that it will reduce the rates of overdose death in our community,” said Nyx.
While there are some existing federally-approved safe supply programs involving medical professionals and prescriptions, their scope is limited and they are not widely available.
DULF uses fundraising to buy illicit drugs using cryptocurrency. “We both sell merchandise and crowdsource funds and right now our budget is about $35,000 per year in funding,” said Nyx.
In addition, DULF only purchases illicit substances from Canadian sellers.
“Once the drugs have been ordered, we receive them through the mail,” she said. “Our money stays in escrow until we get the product and are satisfied with it.”
Subsequently, several methods are used to test the drugs, including Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), in order to detect dangerous substances including fentanyl and carfentanyl.
After the drugs are tested and determined to be safe, they are divided and packaged in small boxes which contain explicit health warnings similar to that of legal cannabis and tobacco, so that users can make informed substance-use decisions.
The illicit drugs are then distributed for free among adult members of established user group, such as the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU).
DULF wants to create a safe supply fulfillment centre that would follow a compassion club model, where drugs are purchased from approved pharmaceutical companies and safely distributed to the public.
Last August, DULF applied for an exemption with the federal government from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act with the goal to create a safe supply fulfillment centre that would follow a “compassion club model,” in which illicit drugs are purchased from approved pharmaceutical companies and safely distributed to the public.
According to Kalicum and Nyx, the lack of information and action from Ottawa is disappointing, but not a deterrence.
“We want to be able to buy in a regulated way, but without the exemption, we are forced to buy from the black market which is something we really don’t want to do,” said Kalicum.