© Guardian photo by Heather Taweel
Lynn Bradley and Wade MacRae of the Native Council of P.E.I. speak to MLAs on the provincial Standing Committee on Health and Social Development. The committee is holding public hearings on the issue of prescription drug addiction in P.E.I.
Addiction to prescription drugs is an epidemic in Prince Edward Island and action must be taken now to improve access to treatment and educate young Islanders about the dangers of taking pills.
This was the message delivered by numerous groups and individuals who appeared before the provincial Standing Committee on Health and Social Development in Charlottetown Tuesday.
Each presenter had a different focus, a different perspective. Some were individual citizens wanting to share their concern for the alarming number of youths becoming addicted to prescription opiates in the province.
Others were community organizations or officials who work directly with those affected by the disease of addiction.
But their messages were all in unison. P.E.I. has a big problem, especially among teens and young adults, and steps must be taken now before it gets worse.
“I truly believe we have an epidemic of opioid addiction in Prince Edward Island. There’s no ifs, ands or buts, that’s just what I see on a daily basis being a frontline worker,” said Wade MacRae, the alcohol and drug program co-ordinator for the P.E.I. Native Council.
He raised concern about the detox program at the provincial treatment facility. It’s not long enough and does not offer suitable after-care, he said.
MacRae also raised concern over the rising number of young women he is meeting who are becoming addicted to snorting and injecting opiates.
Young men will break into a home when their desperation drives them to extremes to get money for drugs.
But the girls “have to do something different,” MacRae said.
“I see it. We’re losing our kids. And I see a lot of blind eyes to what’s going on behind the scenes.”
David Steeves raised concern over the treatment options available to Islanders facing addictions.
“The P.E.I. addictions and mental health program is a shameful failure with dismal results,” he said.
He was especially critical of a recent policy change at the provincial detox facility banning smoking on the premises.
“The P.E.I. addictions and mental health program is a shameful failure with dismal results." David Steeves
“It’s a barrier to treatment,” Steeves said.
“I have never seen anyone give up two addictions at the same time.”
The majority of the presenters Tuesday would speak to the committee only in private, due to the sensitive nature of the issue and the social stigma often attached to addictions.
But the issue was compelling enough to bring a number of interested members of the public to sit in on the presentations that were open — a rare occurrence for provincial committee meetings.
Charlottetown Mayor Clifford Lee told the MLAs he believes the growing problem of opiate addiction is one of “epic proportions,” and urged them not to approach it through partisan eyes.
Data from the Charlottetown police department shows more than 90 per cent of property crimes have an association to drug use, Lee said.
“Every robbery that occurred in Charlottetown for the past two years is directly related to narcotics addictions,” he said, adding that many of them are teens or young adults.
“Clearly we can do better for our youth, for our future,” he said.
Lee stressed addictions is a provincewide issue that affects many areas, including justice, health and education.
He echoed statements made by all the presenters Tuesday that more must be done to improve treatment and early intervention to address the addiction issues in P.E.I.
“This is a public health emergency worthy of a response equal to the worst plagues in history,” he said.
“It is draining the human potential of this province and creating a burden on society that we cannot bear much longer. The effects will be felt for generations if we do not act now.”