(This column was published in the North Shore News on June 2, 1999)


Crack concerns hit N. Shore

By Leo Knight

JUDGING from the e-mail messages I received after last week's column on crack cocaine available in high schools, it seems many people are afraid of the potential problems and just as many are unaware of the dangers to their children.  


As depicted last week, the incident involving a threat with a handgun over a crack debt at Terry Fox secondary in Coquitlam, should bring home to all of us that the crack problem is no longer unique to the Downtown Eastside.  


Crack cocaine is made from powdered cocaine. It is made by mixing powdered cocaine with a substance, usually something as simple as baking soda, which draws all the additives or "cut" from the powdered cocaine. This is done by heating the mixture resulting in a solidified slab or "cookie" of virtually pure cocaine.  


Once dried, the cookie is cut up into small pieces about the size of a chocolate chip. These pieces are about an eighth of a gram and sell for $20.  


Some crack dealers go one step further and cut the "twenty" in half. These smaller pieces are known as "dimes" and sell for $10 each. They are readily available anywhere on the Downtown Eastside and increasingly more and more available in the bedroom communities of the Lower Mainland.  


Crack cocaine is more addictive than powdered cocaine because of its purity and the method of ingestion. Crack must be smoked and cannot be injected or snorted. Many crack uses say they were addicted to it after the first time they smoked it.  


Crack cocaine is responsible for much of the crime committed today. Murder, robbery, auto theft, burglary, shoplifting, you name it and the "crackheads" do it.  


The initial short-lived euphoria of a drug as powerful as crack is followed by a "crash." This involves anxiety, depression, irritability, extreme fatigue and often paranoia. An intense craving for more develops. Hence the easily cultivated addiction to the drug.  


Heavy users become compulsive and repetitive in their behaviour. Often tactile hallucinations can occur such as insects crawling beneath the skin. This may result in the addict literally tearing away at his or her flesh trying in vain to get the bugs out. It is very ugly to see.  


The easily achieved addiction of crack users is the primary reason for its rapid spread throughout the U.S. over the past 10 or so years and now across Canada. The dealers have a built-in return clientele. The drug is cheap and readily available.  


I told you last week that North Shore school trustee and Vancouver Police Staff Sergeant Doug Mackay-Dunn said VPD officers have checked North Shore teens hanging around known crack corners in the city.  


A few days ago, North Vancouver RCMP executed a search warrant on a crack house in Lynn Valley. Apart from the drugs and money seized, the Mounties recovered six van loads of suspected stolen property. No, that's not a typo. From one crack house, they got six van loads.  


There's no doubt that crack cocaine has come to the North Shore. Scared yet? There's more.  


As insidious as all this is, the worst part is that crack dealers target young people and especially young girls.  


At the anti-drug rally hosted by MP Randy White held last week in Abbotsford, Mackay-Dunn told the 3,000 or so assembled concerned parents the story of Mandy Blakemore. While tragic, Mandy's story is not, by any stretch of the imagination, unique.  


She was 17 when her parents were killed in a car accident. Left vulnerable by the tragedy, the pretty young girl was a magnet for the predatory pimps and crack dealers. Once addicted, she had to work to feed her habit by selling her body, in the process losing her self-respect as well as her innocence.  


The ravages of crack took her looks and within a short while she was put out onto the streets of the Downtown Eastside. From high school in Courtney to hooking on the skids in two short years.  


Mackay-Dunn picks up the story. "Last summer, two of my officers spoke with Mandy as she sat in the north lane of the 100 block of East Hastings surrounded by a pile of garbage.  


She wanted to keep her only possession of value -- her crack pipe."  


"She also told the officers she wanted to die. A few days later, she got her wish," said Mackay-Dunn. "She died of heart failure brought on by drug abuse, crack."  


The post mortem revealed she was infected with Hepatitis, HIV and a host of other diseases. Mandy Blakemore was 23 years old when she died.  


According to Mackay-Dunn, she had tried to get help for her addiction a few times. Her sister did everything she could to assist and support her. Unfortunately, there are only 14 drug re-hab beds in the whole province and over 20,000 addicts. There was no help for Mandy.  


Said Mackay-Dunn, "Mandy could have been saved. She was allowed to die a terrible death."  


"This government cares more for sea beds than re-hab beds," concluded Mackay-Dunn.  


Where does all this leave us?  


Crack is creeping into our neighbourhoods and our schools.  


Parents and teachers need to be exceptionally vigilant. Principals and school boards must get their collective heads out of the sand and admit the problem exists and do everything they can to combat the ravages of crack.  


The government needs to refocus its priorities in the way the war on drugs is being waged. It is simply not acceptable to have only 14 re-hab beds in this province.  


Nor is it acceptable for the federal government to withhold funding for the RCMP so that detachments and squads who are at the sharp end of the war are being left shorthanded and bereft of the manpower and resources to do the job that needs to be done.  


Isn't the very future of our children worth it?






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