Surrey businesses zero in on problem pharmacies

CITY CENTRE — The Downtown Surrey BIA is advocating for changes to problem pharmacies in the city’s core.

The BIA first focused on this in 2005, when the organization noticed an overabundance of small-scale pharmacies that dispense methadone in the area, particularly north of 104th Avenue.

"We’re considered actually a hot spot," said the BIA’s Bonnie Burnside.

There are roughly 20 pharmacies that dispense methadone in the area, she said, adding that some are fullservice drugstores and some are strictly methadone dispensaries.

And it can be a lucrative business. "I heard of one instance where somebody was on 17 different drugs. So, when you consider 17 different drugs, and the dispensing fees on 17 different products, that becomes very lucrative."

The BIA has had meetings with the College of Pharmacists of B.C. and other stakeholders to discuss concerns.

A major concern is clients loitering and disturbing neighbouring businesses, which attracts drug dealers who tend to "prey" on the recipients, Burnside said.

"We think that the pharmacy should be responsible for the loitering," she said.

The BIA also takes issue with some pharmacies offering incentives to garner more customers, such as free food or coffee, which Burnside said isn’t allowed.

Starting Feb. 1, home deliveries of methadone can only be provided if a doctor deems the patient to be restricted mobility, which Burnside is glad to hear. The College of Pharmacists has also told the BIA it will tie business licensing into its accreditation.

The city and RCMP have been involved in conversations as well. In 2008, the City of Surrey enacted a bylaw that requires a minimum of 400-metre separation between drug stores, small-scale pharmacies and methadone dispensaries.

Elizabeth Model, CEO of the BIA, said she’s optimistic the College of Pharmacists will continue to work with problem pharmacies in the area to help them run their businesses up to standard.

"(The College of Pharmacists) are extremely good about listening to us, listening to the problem and then identifying them and following up," she said.

Coun. Barinder Rasode said the issues are significant and praised the BIA for the work it has done.

"We still have to work on the problem related to unregulated recovery homes," Rasode said. "There’s different levels to the problem, but I think the BIA has targeted this part of the problem well."

Richie Hussett, owner of the Di Reggae Café at 108th Avenue and King George Boulevard, said it doesn’t make sense to have so many pharmacies clustered in one area.

"What’s the point of having clinics in the middle of a drug capital?" he questioned. "Drugs are right at their fingertips here."

He would like to see methadone-dispensing pharmacies on the outskirts of a community, not in the centre of it.

"We do have to help people, but there’s a proper way to do it, proper facilities and proper locations."

Hussett said he understands some pharmacy operators want to help, but others likely see an opportunity to make quick cash from the government.

"The only way to save this community is by us working together. From my side of the fence, it’s not helping my business."

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