Divide up welfare cheques: study

Maple Ridge Coun. Bob Masse supports idea of dividing up payments.

Clients line up outside the welfare office along Lougheed Highway in Maple Ridge on Welfare Wednesday. (Line-up blurred to protect identities.)

Clients line up outside the welfare office along Lougheed Highway in Maple Ridge on Welfare Wednesday. (Line-up blurred to protect identities.)

Reducing the number of drug overdoses may not be as simple as just changing the days when people get their income assistance cheques.

But it’s an idea worth trying in an attempt to keep money from burning holes in people’s pockets, according to a new study and a local councillor.

“One of the triggers for someone trying to stay clean is if they get a lot of money in their hands. I can say that definitely is a trigger for some people,” says Annika Polegato, executive-director with Alouette Addictions Services in Maple Ridge.

A UBC study in the International Journal of Drug Policy found that people using the Insite safe injection site in Vancouver were twice as likely to overdose on and around Welfare Wednesday, when they received their cheques.

But everyone’s different, Polegato said.

Some people could use smaller, more-frequent cheques, more responsibility for life’s necessities. But others could just use the smaller cheques to buy smaller amounts of drugs.

“Everybody’s different. It’s different for everybody. It’s great they’re looking into it.”

Alouette Addictions had no data or anecdotal information showing that there’s an increase in the number of overdoses in Maple Ridge on the last Wednesday of each month, when people receive their income assistance cheques.

Actually, that can mean a quieter time at the addictions centre on Lougheed Highway because people aren’t seeking treatment.

The addictions centre is across from the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation office, where cheques are handed out.

According to the ministry, about 80 per cent of recipients have their funds directly deposited into bank accounts, reducing the risk of cash being used to buy drugs.

A  total of 3,102 people receive income or disability assistance in Maple Ridge.

Ridge Meadows RCMP’s street enforcement unit also says there’s no connection between welfare day and overdoses.

And Ridge Meadows Hospital doesn’t seen any change in the number of overdoses coming into the emergency department on Welfare Wednesdays, said Fraser Health spokesman Tasleem Juma.

“Anecdotally, we have not seen anything unusual.”

She said first responders such as fire or police may see an increase on those days, but not the hospital because not every overdose results in a trip to the emergency.

But Coun. Bob Masse, who’s on Maple Ridge’s social planning advisory committee and who has been pushing for treatment centres for the mentally ill, said dividing up payments is something worth trying.

“It certainly makes sense.”

He’s heard before that many people get into trouble when income assistance payments are made.

“We know that, regionally, we know that to be true, that [when] people get their money that a lot of binging, whether it be alcohol or drugs, is associated with that.

“If you spread it out over two payments in the month … is it going to make that better or not? It would certainly be worth trying.”

It’s been well recognized for a long time that there’s a spike in behaviour problems and overdoses during that time, when cheques are issued.

“It’s certainly something that I’ve heard,” Masse said.

The monthly rate for a single person living alone is $610, including shelter allowance.

Masse has been pushing for opening some beds at the former Riverview hospital in Coquitlam and said a new 40-bed, long-term mental health facility run by Coast Mental Health in November.

Booze still is the No. 1 drug issue in Maple Ridge, said Polegato.

However, risky use of prescription drugs is a trend among teens.

“We’re seeing lots of prescription medication, abuse of prescription medication.”

Another current trend among youth are “bowl parties,” where kids steal pills from home and throw them all into a bowl at a party.

“It’s a real big problem.”

“You don’t even know if they’re taking anti-depressants from home or prescription painkillers or sleeping pills or mental health medication or aspirin. You have no idea what’s going into the bowl.

It’s not detectable, no cost and not illegal.

“Very, very dangerous.”

Polegato also warned about marijuana, saying it’s a “major gateway drug.”

“There’s always a portion of the population that will try marijuana once and never try it again.”

For others, marijuana will open the door “to a path not well-travelled.”

Marijuana is addictive, she added, saying research shows people who smoke pot regularly can move on to other drugs, lose their motivation and focus and gain weight.

“We encourage people to stay sober and not try drugs.”

The ministry also occasionally provides smaller payments throughout the month for those who can’t manage their own funds.