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2015 overdose crisis cost U.S. $504 billion says White House

The cost of the opioid overdose crisis to the U.S. economy in 2015 was a whopping USD$504 billion, or 2.8 percent of GDP for the year, says a report released Monday (November 20) by the Council of Economic Advisors (CEA), an advisory body to the President of the United States.

This half-trillion dollar re-estimation of the economic cost to the U.S. of the opioid crisis is over six times greater than the largest earlier estimate ($78.5 billion) calculated four years ago, for 2013.

The CEA’s report, titled The Underestimated Cost of the Opioid Crisis, explains that the sixfold increase of its cost estimate is the result of using more complete and up-to-date data that reflects the tremendous increase of overdose deaths since 2013, as well as the inclusion of what it says is the most important component of economic loss—the fatalities resulting from overdoses.

The report argues that the component of overdose deaths has been largely missing from earlier valuations, such as the $78.5 billion of Curtis Florence et al. 2016, which focused mainly on the costs to the healthcare and criminal justice systems.

According to the executive summary:

“This paper estimates the economic cost of these deaths using conventional economic estimates for valuing life routinely used by U.S. Federal agencies. It also adjusts for underreporting of opioids in overdose deaths, includes heroin-related fatalities, and incorporates nonfatal costs of opioid misuse.”

In fact, almost all of the increase in the CEA’s estimate (85.6 percent) is the result of its novel attempt to put a dollar value on the lives lost to drug overdose deaths. Read more…

Some of the late great pumpkins of Halloween 2017

Closeup of a sculpted pumpkin seen off the east side of Cambie Street on November 8th.

Halloween 2017 is long gone but, as usual, many of this year’s crop of carved pumpkins remained for days and weeks afterwards to haunt yards, gate posts, verandas and entrance-ways across Vancouver.

Still face-to-face with the pumpkin off the east side of Cambie Street.

Given the sheer size of the city it is impossible to get one’s fill of creatively-carved pumpkins in the mere handful of days between when the pumpkins first appear, to the night of Halloween itself.

So the persistence of Halloween pumpkins is a very gourd good thing; it means that more of them can be seen by more of us. Read more…

Warm-looking morning but looks can be deceiving

The southeastern sky behind the ToyMac sign in the 1100 block of West Broadway Avenue at 8:01 a.m.

If I yawned at the sight of the eastern sky at 8 a.m. this morning (November 7) it wasn’t from boredom, only sleepiness but the brisk temperature of 4° C. made short work of that.

There was certainly nothing dull about the sunrise Tuesday morning.

As seen from the Broadway corridor in the Fairview neighbourhood, light from the rising sun painted and transformed a light, streaky cover of clouds into a veritable sunburst of fiery yellows, oranges and reds.

I was damn lucky to see it. In the way of such meteorological displays, the molten-hotness of the clouds faded quickly, leaving not a trace in the flat grey sky. All that remained was a memory and one pale photograph in my camera. Read more…

Kitsilano has lost its only emergency men’s homeless shelter

Detail from the online sales listing for the church at 1805 Larch Street.—Colliers International

Usually, it’s affordable housing that is lost to redevelopment but sometimes it’s houses of worship and irreplaceable shelter beds.

The church at 1805 Larch Street in Kitsilano, which has doubled as an Extreme Weather Response (EWR) homeless shelter for many winters, is up for sale for an undisclosed price and—no surprise—it’s 25 beds are nowhere to be seen in the November 3 announcement of Vancouver EWR shelters for the winter of 2017/18, made by B.C. Municipal Affairs and Housing.

EWR shelters only open in response to a community extreme weather alert, so they are not reliably open every night. All the same, the 25-bed, part-time EWR shelter at St Mark’s has been the only emergency shelter that homeless men in Kitsilano and Fairview have ever had, to my knowledge.

I understand that every night it was open in the winter of 2016/17, St. Mark’s EWR shelter hosted at 10 least homeless men. And the one night last winter when it should’ve been open but wasn’t, I certainly heard about it later from my homeless peers.

Now St. Mark’s isn’t listed as an EWR shelter at all. Now there is no emergency shelter for homeless men of any sort on the West Side of Vancouver.

And what’s worse, the long-time EWR shelter at the Tenth Avenue Alliance Church, on 11 West 10th Avenue, in Mount Pleasant, is also not included in this winter’s list of EWR shelters. That’s another 25 beds gone.

What’s going on? Read more…

Shouldn’t be so hard to Google a shelter bed on the Internet!

Gimme shelter!—Ted McGrath Creative Commons/public domain

Forget the Internet. The surest way to find  an emergency shelter bed in the City of Vancouver is still to physically go to the Downtown Eastside and start asking around.

This old-fashioned method has the advantage of being faster and much less frustrating than trying to navigate the various lists and maps of shelters that various government and non-governmental agencies have created on the Internet.

For one thing, emergency shelters (like most homeless services) are still largely relegated to the confines of the DTES. And for another, online shelter finding aids appear to be made more to satisfy an expectation that something of the sort should be on the Internet, rather than to truly facilitate homeless people finding and securing a bed for the night.

And functionality-wise, public sector websites are usually years behind private sector sites. Which is to say that as bad as it is trying to find an emergency shelter bed online, you had best use a desktop computer, because it’s even worse if you try to do it on a mobile device.

The buzzword for modern websites is to be “responsive”, meaning that they should present a desktop-friendly layout on desktop computers and a mobile-friendly layout on mobile phones and tablets.

Public sector websites are, for the most part, no more “responsive” than public sector bureaucrats. Read more…

The ongoing adventures of my magnetic remembrance poppy

My remembrance poppy, with its epoxied magnet, stuck to a wheel of my bike trailer.

I lost my remembrance poppy in a dimly-lit alley at 7 a.m. this morning (November 1). The poppy was knocked off my jacket pocket when my chest hit the lip of a dumpster I was searching through for returnable beverage containers (I earn money cashing them in).

I felt the poppy come loose and I heard the small noise that it made landing. But search as I did with a flashlight I was unable to see the telltale red colour of it anywhere. It wasn’t visible in the dumpster or anywhere on the ground; not around the dumpster, or underneath it. And it wasn’t on the dumpster either.

Losing it like that was a puzzler—I couldn’t imagine where it went—and I was disappointed. Read more…