British Columbia

Crackdown podcast tells story of overdose crisis from drug users' perspectives

A new podcast called Crackdown is being produced by a group of drug users along with a co-creator from the B.C. Centre on Substance Abuse. It focuses on the deadly overdose crisis, as told by the people surviving it.

'We definitely experience it like a war. It's got casualties that rival modern wars,' host says

Crackdown host Garth Mullins listens to a draft version of his new podcast. (Alexander B. Kim)

The first episode of a new podcast about the overdose crisis was released on Wednesday.

Crackdown is raw, filled with passion and struggle, and laced with expletives.

The podcast is hosted by Garth Mullins, a radio producer and opioid user known for his activism around access to opioid addiction treatment like methadone.

From Mullins' perspective, the Reagan-era war on drugs is still being lived by drug users — But all the casualties are on one side.

"The war has sides. There are people who make the laws and the police on one side. And then there are the drug users and the dead on the other side," said Mullins, who has become frustrated by how long it has taken officials to slow the deadly toll of the overdose crisis.

The first episode, titled "War Correspondents," is a primer on the crisis and an introduction to some of the activists and drug users involved in the project.

"We definitely experience it like a war. It's got casualties that rival modern wars and we think it should be covered like that," Mullins said.

While the episodes will be driven by the voices of drug users, many of whom are core members of the Downtown Eastside community involved in organizations like the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, it's also backed by science.

Members of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users have a 'listening party' to check out the Crackdown podcast before its release. The program is full of drug users' voices. (Alexander B. Kim)

Co-creator Ryan McNeil — a researcher with the B.C. Centre on Substance Use and an assistant professor in the department of medicine at the University of British Columbia — is serving as the production team's scientific advisor.

"It's so critical that [drug users'] experiences and perspectives are foregrounded in drug policy debates, but in many cases someone like me, who's a researcher, can step in and really leverage the evidence to further amplify their voices," said McNeil.

"[Crackdown] is going to present people who use drugs as experts who can advise on the need for policy change," he said.

"As we have discussions about stigma and the overdose crisis — and everyone understands that stigma is fundamental here — stigma partly happens because we don't listen to people who use drugs and give them a voice in these discussions," said McNeil.

The production is driven by activists, who have a strong opinion on how to improve conditions for people dying, or at high risk of dying, of an overdose.

"We're going to expose bad drug policy as the reason we have bad drugs," says Mullins in the conclusion to the first episode.

"We're going to look at solutions, like how decriminalization and a safe drug supply could end the overdose crisis."


Follow Rafferty Baker on Twitter: @raffertybaker

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Rafferty Baker

Rafferty Baker is CBC Vancouver's mobile journalist. Follow him @raffertybaker

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