Maple Ridge city council is looking for ways to limit the number of pharmacies in the downtown, with some councillors particularly wanting to control the number of small operators whose business includes opioid agonist therapy (OAT) prescriptions.
At their Nov. 2 workshop meeting, councillors asked staff to prepare a bylaw to prohibit new small-scale pharmacies in the town centre area, around 224th Street, and also introduce buffers of 400 meters around pharmacies elsewhere in the city.
Mayor Mike Morden said there was a particular pharmacy on the Lougheed Highway, between 224th and 223rd Streets, whose store negatively impacted neighbouring businesses, who were forced to close or move.
“One particular operator negatively impacted their neighbours,” said Morden. “That’s the reason why this is here.”
Coun. Gordy Robson said the clientele who use the OAT program can cause problems for other businesses. OAT is a treatment for addition to drugs such as heroin, fentanyl and oxycodone. It involves taking methadone or the drug Suboxone to reduce cravings and prevent withdrawal. OAT treatment is intended to help those fighting addiction stabilize their lives.
Robson said these drugs should be written for people who are seeking “sobriety”
“Quite obviously substitute drug use is something that should be on a step toward sobriety, it shouldn’t be something that’s a maintenance drug in my opinion. That creates a whole issue around where they are.”
Businesses on the Lougheed Highway complained that the customers using a new pharmacy providing OAT prescriptions drove people away from neighbouring businesses. The business owners told The News their customers were confronted by open drug use, needles, drug paraphernalia, people yelling profanity and other problems.
“The reason why we’re here, is because various pharmacies are in the specific businesses of distributing under the OAT program,” said Morden.
“The byproduct of this was we lost a bunch of long-time merchants in our town, and that’s why we’re here.”
He said the city is seeing more small pharmacies whose business is opioid agonist therapy.
Currently there are 17 pharmacies in the town centre, with two more set to open, and another five elsewhere in the city. Some are located in large retail spaces, and they range in size. Staff said the number of pharmacies mirrors other cities in Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley.
Coun. Judy Dueck, who asked that council deal with the issue, said there are simply too many pharmaceutical outlets, and she would like to see a greater mix of business types in the downtown core.
“For me, it was about walking around town and talking to business owners and residents about the number of pharmacies in our town centre. I think we have more than enough access for pharmaceutical products in the downtown.”
“Is this what we want to be? A community of pharmacies?”
She said shopping is a city issue during every election cycle, and people want retail, food, clothing and other products.
Coun. Chelsa Meadus said past councils have taken on similar issues.
“When I first moved here, we had an excess of pawn shops and cheque cashing places, and that’s kind of what our downtown looked like, and our councils of the past made that environment not as comfortable, and so those businesses moved out, and then we started to get the beautiful restaurants that we have now, kids shopping, clothes, housewares and things like that,” she said.
Meadus said council has done a good job of dispersing cannabis shops throughout the community.
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