A thick fog is slowly creeping across Prince Edward Island, leaving in its wake personal and family devastation, financial hardships and social problems.
I am referring to drug addiction, both illegal drugs sold by criminals and the legal ones prescribed by some of society’s most trusted individuals.
And just like it is impossible to stop a rolling fog, combatting the drug problem can also seem insurmountable. Or at least some days it looks that way when you check out the court docket or hear the pleas of distraught people looking for help for their loved ones.
On top of that personal cost, the drug problem is causing a major pain to our already overloaded health-care system. It stresses the system in two ways. First, in the public demand to help people dealing with addictions, and second, by the fact people with addiction problems tend to lead unhealthy lives, which means they depend on the health-care system a great deal.
Two years ago, a Guardian story quoted a Crown prosecutor as saying over 50 per cent of people appearing in court on criminal charges were there because of addiction issues or the drug trade. It’s unlikely that percentage has decreased.
And that’s just what is going on in the criminal court system.
Deputy Health Minister Michael Mayne told a recent legislature committee the problem of prescription pill dependence, especially among youths, is a serious issue, eclipsing all previous rates of drug addiction in P.E.I. He says data shows opiates are now the drug of choice among those who seek treatment at the provincial detox facility in Mount Herbert.
“We have a major challenge in front of us in dealing with this culture of prescription pain management, and it’s not just as simple as just fixing the addiction issue. We’ve got a lot of work to do in terms of not only the public education aspect ... but also dealing with our prescription mentality,” said Mayne.
Speaking of the detox facility, it has 24 beds and a waiting list of 22 as of this week.
Another 200 people are in the province’s methadone program with 67 on a waiting list. Methadone is a drug given to addicts to help them get off the drugs to which they have become addicted. By the way, in 2004 the Island’s methadone program had only nine clients so the growth since then has been staggering to say the least.
Speaking of how times change, I suspect when the shiny new Mount Herbert facility was built a few years ago, 24 beds likely seemed like a good number. As of this week it could use double its total and that would only house the individuals either ordered to seek treatment or doing so voluntarily. That number would likely only be the tip of the iceberg in terms of how many Islanders could benefit from a stay in lovely Mount Herbert.
The conversation surrounding addictions is a depressing one. Images like someone being in the middle of the Northumberland Strait in a leaky dory, with a small bucket to bail out water, come to mind.
I write this column prior to Friday’s announcement by Health and Wellness Minister Doug Currie regarding mental health and addictions services and supports. I am sure it will be well thought out, but I doubt it will provide a simple answer to the addiction issue.
Not to belittle what is going on with the Senate, or other such sexy and important political issues, but we as a society need to bottle some of that anger and outrage and point it in other directions, such as the fact we are sending our children to schools where drug dealers are part of the culture.
Mr. Currie, and the many future health ministers that will follow him, can make all the announcements they want, but as long as we live in a society which embraces the use of drugs, illegal and legal, little will change.
Does anyone seriously think we can build enough treatment facilities, or hand out enough methadone, to get ahead of the problem? It is time to stop looking for a simple fix to the drug and alcohol issue.
The answer will only start to become clearer when society turns a mirror on itself.
Gary MacDougall is managing editor of The Guardian. He can be reached by telephone at (902) 629-6039; by email at email@example.com; or on Twitter@GaryGuardian.