Sunday, September 27, 1998

Ann Rees
Staff Reporter

p. A3.

With a backdrop of drug-related graffiti, Staff-Sgt. Doug MacKay-Dunn stands in alley south of 000-block West Hastings. Gerry Kahrmann - The Province

Kids on front line as addicts die like flies

Coroner 'scared to death' by crack plague infecting teens

A shocking increase in drug deaths has B.C.'s chief coroner "scared to death."

he and top police officers fear that suburban kids are prime targets in the deadly drug trade.

The coroner has recorded 272 deaths from overdoses of heroin or cocaine in B.C. this year to mid-September. That's a 30-per-cent increase over the same period last year.

"At this rate, we'll see 400 dead by the end of this year," said chief coroner Larry Campbell. "I don't know how to stop it."

This year's overdose death rate is almost certain to be a record, elclipsing 1993, when 357 people died.

Untold numbers of additional victims not counted in the drug toll because they died of complications from their addictions.

For instance, the death last month of 23-year-old Mandy Blakemore, of a bacterial infection caused by intravenous drug use, is classified as a death by natural causes.

One of the most disturbing trends is the increase in cocaine-related deaths.

"What we are seeing most is a switch from heroin to cocaine, to crack," said Campbell.

Price, availability and ease of use by smoking are part of the appeal of crack. The rock-like chunks of crystallized cocaine sell for $10 a hit and are as available as candy in the downtown east side.

Many of the new users are kids -- suburban teenagers looking for a cheap thrill. "This seems to be the crowd that is really getting into crack," said Campbell. "It's so cheap, it's easy and there's no needles."

Staff-Sgt. Dough MacKay-Dunn of the Vancouver police watches kids arrive by bus, looking for drugs.

"I see it all the time. I was downtown today and I saw three young people get off the bus on Hastings," he said Friday.

"They were dressed in their sports garb. They were about 15 or 16 and looked like kids you'd see in any mall."

They told the officer they were there to see "a friend."

"The only 'friend' they know down there is the dealer," said MacKay-Dunn.

Users are quickly addicted to crack.

"There's no such thing as a little bit of crack," said MacKay-Dunn, who started his career as an undercover drug cop 27 years ago. "The problem with crack cocaine, to use a medical term, is it's extremely rewarding."

Once addicted, the user will do almost anything to get the next hit.

"In experiments with addicted rats, the animals will take cocaine before they take food and drink, even to the point of death."

MacKay-Dunn called the drug problem "a plague. It is infecting the downtown east side and the greater community."

"I don't care where youcome from -- Shaughnessy, the east side, White Rock, West Vancouver -- it can happen to anybody."

MANDY'S STORY, Pages A24-25

Mandy Blakemore... [Vancouver '98] [News by region] [News by topic]

Created: October 3, 1998
Last modified: October 4, 1998

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