Hugh Lampkin walks the alleys of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside armed with the necessities of the street: condoms, gloves, pipes, and several vials of naloxone, a life-saving drug. He's cracked the antidote open many times before, injected it into a body gone limp and been rewarded with the desperate, laboured breaths of someone clawing back from an overdose.
"The breath of life," he calls it. "The most beautiful sound you can hear when you're working on somebody and they're blue and there's no sign of life."
As a wave of opioid deaths rolls over Canada, fuelled by the surge of fentanyl, a drug 50 times more powerful than heroin, this tight-knit, impoverished neighbourhood is among the hardest hit. Hugh, himself a user, says he has known 500 people who have died in the Downtown Eastside in the last decade. British Columbia as a whole has declared a public health emergency this year over skyrocketing drug overdoses, and is on track to see more than 800 deaths in 2016.
A member of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, Hugh's regular patrols are part of a larger grassroots mobilization to keep people alive. From healthcare workers scrambling to the scene of the latest OD; to Insite, the country's first safe injection site; and a more recent pop-up tent that provides supervised space for people using drugs, Vancouver has been on the vanguard of harm reduction in Canada.
We walked the streets with Hugh, a man drug users consider a "secret kind of a hero," as part of VICE Canada's special series, RELAPSE: Facing Canada's Opioid Crisis.