North America is in the grips of a drug epidemic; with the introduction of fentanyl, the chances of a fatal overdose are greater than ever, prompting many to rethink the war on drugs. There were more than 60,000 opiod overdose deaths in the United States in 2016—this annual death toll increases yearly. This is mass murder. While deaths across the continent continue to climb, Fighting for Space explains the concept of harm reduction as a crucial component of a city’s response to the drug crisis.
It tells the story of a grassroots group of drug users in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside who waged a political street fight for two decades to transform how the city treats its most marginalized citizens. Over the past twenty-five years, this group of residents from Canada’s poorest neighborhood organized themselves in response to the growing number of overdose deaths and demanded that drug users be given the same rights as any other citizen; against all odds, they eventually won.
But just as their battle came to an end, fentanyl arrived and opioid deaths across North America reached an all-time high. The “genocide” in Vancouver finally sparked government action. Twenty years later, as the same pattern plays out in other cities, there is much that advocates for reform can learn from Vancouver’s experience. Fighting for Space tells that story—including case studies in Ohio, Florida, New York, California, Massachusetts, and Washington state—with the same passionate fervor as the activists whose tireless work gave dignity to drug users and saved countless lives.
Travis Lupick is an award-winning journalist based in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and the author of Fighting for Space: How a Group of Drug Users Transformed One City’s Struggle with Addiction. He works as a staff reporter for the Georgia Straight newspaper and has also written about drug addiction, harm reduction, and mental health for the Toronto Star and Al Jazeera English, among other outlets. For Fighting for Space, he received the 2018 George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature. Travis has also worked as a journalist in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Malawi, Nepal, Bhutan, Peru, and Honduras.