Episode 31: Love, Death and Benzodope

Can Martin and Laura’s fairy tale love story survive benzodope – the next lethal era of the drug war?

British Columbia has seen a surge of unusual overdoses – including Martin and Laura’s. People are passing out for hours, losing their memories, and getting robbed and assaulted. And deaths have spiked. Again.

But our community is responding. Harm Reduction workers like Trey Helten at the Vancouver Overdose Prevention Society are coming up with ways to keep people OD-ing on benzodope safe and alive – all without adequate resources or space. You can donate to Vancouver OPS here

Benzo contamination of the drug supply continues to get worse. Almost half of the illicit opioids sampled in B.C. now have benzos in them. More than 100,000 of us depend on this street drug supply – including Martin Steward and Laura Shaver.

After withstanding so many other crises, now Martin and Laura need to survive benzodope – a scary new challenge confronting their decade-strong relationship and their work as drug user activists.

But what do we do now that so many of us are wired to benzos? How much longer can we wait for safe supply?

Call to Action and Political Demands

  • Prohibition has made the drug supply unregulated, unpredictable and potentially lethal. Drug users need a safe supply – that is, access to a safer pharmaceutical version of their drug of choice; coke, meth, heroin, fentanyl, whatever. A safe supply could end the overdose crisis overnight.

  • Police must stand down and stop enforcing prohibition. Enforcement makes illicit drugs stronger and more contaminated. Drug war policing is what brought us benzo-dope.

  • Doctors must start prescribing benzodiazepines and opioids in combination to substitute for the illicit and potentially-lethal street benzo-dope.

  • OPSs should be expanded & funded to accommodate the longer duration of benzo-dope overdoses.

  • Safe supply, substitution treatment and withdrawal management services must be made available to people who are wired to benzo-dope.

  • OPS workers — especially peers — should have unionized jobs with benefits.

Learning Outcomes

Crackdown episodes are frequently used as educational tools by teachers and community organizers. Please let us know if your class or group listens to our work!

Episode 31 is especially useful for exploring the following themes:

  • The outsized role of peers at overdose prevention sites in responding to the poison drug crisis.

  • Ruptures and changes within the illicit drug supply.

  • Romantic relationships and structural vulnerability.

  • Public health outcomes of the benzodope crisis on people who use drugs.

Works Cited

News stories/journal articles:


Additional Reading


Crackdown is produced on Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh territories.

If you like what we do, please consider donating to the show on Patreon.

Special thanks to Sara Blyth and Trey Helton for allowing us to record at OPS. If you’d like to provide them with a donation you can do so on their website here.

Thanks as well to Hugh Lampkin for helping us remember the details from Martin’s benzo overdose.

Our editorial board is: Samona Marsh, Shelda Kastor, Greg Fresz, Jeff Louden, Dean Wilson, Laura Shaver, Reija Jean. Rest in Peace Dave Murray and Chereece Keewatin.

This episode was conceptualized, written, and produced by Sam Fenn, Alexander Kim, Alex de Boer, Jade Boyd, Lisa Hale and Garth Mullins.

Our academic director is Ryan McNeil.

Thanks also to Martin Steward and Laura Shaver for reviewing drafts so we could get this right.

Sound design by Alexander Kim.

Original score was written and performed by James Ash.

Academic advising and direction for this episode was provided by Professor Jade Boyd.

Additional research by Alex Betsos.

Thanks to Brenda Longfellow and Darkfield Radio for additional project management and production support.

Crackdown is funded in part by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Additional funding for this episode was provided by the Canadian Media Fund.