Premier Christy Clark said she recognizes addiction needs to be addressed in order to stop the demand for illegal drugs, the dealing of which is creating mayhem on Surrey streets.
Treatment must come as part of a multi-pronged anti-crime approach that starts with prevention and education of youth, Clark said in a wide-ranging interview with The Surrey-North Delta Leader on Tuesday.
“Really doubling down with police and making sure that young people have the education they need, and really trying to crack the drug trade,” Clark said of some of the solutions to the rash of recent gun crime in the city.
“Criminals are like weeds in the garden,” Clark said. “You go out and you weed your garden and you get it all cleaned up, and if you’re not out there every day trying to pull out the weeds, and figure out which is the weed and which is the plant, they’re going to catch up on you and they’re going to take over.”
She acknowledged that addiction in B.C. provides fertile soil in which drug dealers grow.
Forty per cent of the people presenting at hospital emergency rooms have substance abuse as a primary or secondary reason for being there. People with substance abuse problems are taking up half the beds at hospitals.
If not just because it’s the right thing to do, Clark was asked how is it the province isn’t driven to deal with the issue from a financial standpoint, as untreated addictions ring up millions of dollars in health care, policing and other costs.
“You’re right to talk about the primary and secondary (reasons for) addiction,” Clark said. “One of the things we do know is mental illness drives a huge amount of drug addiction.”
She noted mental illness can range from schizophrenia to more “invisible” disorders such as depression or anxiety.
The province, she said, is going to create a new plan for mental illness across the province.
“One of the things we need to think about is, how do we simplify the entry point for people with mental illness?” Clark asked, suggesting emergency rooms are the wrong place to handle people in crisis.
“They get bounced around in the system until they get spat out again, and they’re back out on the street trying to treat their own mental illness through illicit drugs and alcohol,” Clark said.
A new plan will require breaking down barriers between ministries and creating single access points for people who need help.
“What we’re doing right now is a system that isn’t working,” Clark said. “And I am determined to fix it.”
Sue Hammell, NDP MLA for Surrey-Green Timbers, has been sounding the alarm about the connection between addiction and violence on Surrey streets for some time.
She agrees with many of the approaches suggested by Clark, but said much can be done now to produce immediate results.
She points out that the provincial health officer recently declared a state of emergency regarding opioid addiction in this province.
Fentanyl and other pharmaceuticals such as oxycodone have ended up on Surrey streets, resulting in a spike of overdose deaths.
Hammell said this could be cut dramatically by providing education for physicians about prescribing such medications and the proper use of Pharmanet to make sure people aren’t receiving opioids from more than one doctor.