The drug overdose crisis, experts have said, has been exacerbated by COVID-19. (Black Press files)

The drug overdose crisis, experts have said, has been exacerbated by COVID-19. (Black Press files)

Candidates debate addictions and the overdose epidemic

What has been done, what is needed in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows?

Emotions ran high at the South Ridge Terrace apartment complex in Maple Ridge on the morning of Oct. 9.

The building maintenance worker had found a man slumped over on a stairway outside the building. He couldn’t be awakened. There was a needle on the step beside him.

An upset strata president Ramona Stimpfl said it was the third overdose the building has seen in recent years. The strata spent $30,000 on security because homeless people were accessing the property, but a few years ago a man had been found on a resident’s patio, having overdosed.

“There are no wraparound services,” raged Stimpfl. “I’m tired of harm reduction.”

Talking about the many people who drove past on the Haney Bypass, who might have noticed the man wrapped in a blanket on the stairway, she was near tears.

The police and coroner came and took the body of the deceased man, who appeared to be middle aged.

The opioid epidemic can hit close to home. The rising overdose statistics tabulate a grim situation, that’s getting worse. Through August, there were 1,068 fatal overdoses in B.C. so far in 2020. That compares to 983 through all of 2019.

We asked candidates in the ridings of Maple Ridge-Mission and Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows for their views on addiction and the overdose epidemic.

Cheryl Ashlie, Liberal candidate for Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows, said the “four pillars” is recognized as the best approach, and it calls for prevention, harm reduction, enforcement and treatment. Unfortunately, she sees the current government as too focused on harm reduction.

“They are settling for that being the focus,” she said. “I haven’t met an addict yet who said ‘keep me in this hell hole I’m in.’”

She said there needs to be more focus on treatment, and supporting people to rebuild their lives – starting with keeping them from relapsing, up to gaining employment.

Ashlie said she has met people on the doorsteps during her campaign, who tell her their stories. One man needed supports for about 16 months, he told her. He described a lot of hard times.

“It’s not a 30-day program,” she said. “It’s not a housing first, cup of tea, and sit down and chat.”

For Maple Ridge, she said, that means converting the Alouette Heights building – which was built to be second-stage housing – from a low barrier homeless shelter back to its original purpose. People in recovery must be removed from the environment where there is addiction, she said.

Ashlie said that conversion would also fulfill promises made to the neighbourhood when it was built.

Chelsa Meadus, Liberal candidate for Maple Ridge-Mission, said she recently served Thanksgiving dinner to people experiencing addiction, mental health problems and poverty.

“The sheer volume made me think we’re not doing a good job,” she said. “We (society) are failing people.”

When she was elected to Maple Ridge council in 2018, she said the new council wanted long-term treatment programs, and “an opportunity for people to be able to change their lives.”

However, she said the NDP government has been satisfied with merely providing shelter spaces.

“We’re definitely trying to house people, but then we’re walking away,” she said. “It’s not working.”

Meadus said she chose to get involved with the BC Liberal party because of their strong platform on addiction.

Bob D’Eith, NDP candidate for Maple Ridge-Mission, said his party has done a lot in a short time on this file.

“The overdose crisis has impacted communities all across B.C.” he said. “I’m proud the BC NDP has accomplished so much these past few years to tackle the overdose crisis, like creating the first Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions. Lisa Beare and I have been fighting hard to get the services that Maple Ridge needs, like the Foundry Centre in Maple Ridge, and we’ll continue to build that full continuum of care.

There are 19 new Foundry youth centres, including the one in Maple Ridge.

“The BC Liberals have no plan to address this crisis and their record of cutting youth treatment beds just as the crisis was growing shows how much they actually prioritize this issue,” he added D’Eith

Lisa Beare, NDP candidate for Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows, noted overdose deaths were down 36 per cent in 2019, for the first time since 2012, but then COVID-19 caused a spike in deaths across Canada.

“Too many lives have been lost because of the overdose crisis,” said Beare.”The BC NDP is fighting the overdose crisis on all fronts as we build the full continuum of care that was lacking for years under the BC Liberals. There isn’t one magic bullet, but prevention and treatment are key. That’s why the BC NDP is already doubling youth treatment beds to protect and support our kids – the largest ever investment in youth beds in B.C. history.

“A re-elected BC NDP government will also add 800 more treatment beds across B.C. The BC Liberals failed to tackle this crisis comprehensively and cut youth treatment beds just as the crisis was growing.”

She also noted the NDP government placed the first integrated child and youth teams in schools within School District 42, offering services to children, youth and their families struggling with mental health and substance use challenges.

Maple Ridge and Mission are also receiving a new 24/7 mobile Assertive Community Treatment team, offering psycho-social supports, and recovery options for adults with serious complex and often persistent mental health challenges.

READ ALSO: Province unveils 10-year plan to boost mental health, addiction recovery services

READ ALSO: Are supportive housing facilities working in Maple Ridge?

Matt Trenholm, Green Party candidate for Maple Ridge-Mission, agrees with decriminalizing simple possession.

“Form around the world, in areas that have done it, decriminalizing can help, and it’s something we should do in this province.”

He said giving addicts a safe supply would obviously save lives, given how dangerous it is to use fentanyl and carfentanyl.

“They’re playing Russian roulette with the drugs they are using,” he said.

Trenholm would expand social services and addictions counselling, and promote an evidence-based approach.

He said addiction is an illness that health care providers, not police officers, should deal with.

Trenholm said this should not be a partisan issue, and he would support anyone, of any political stripe, who came forward with policies that could help.

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