Hundreds gather in New Waterford to push for a drug treatment centre

More than 300 people gathered at the New Waterford fire hall last night to lobby the provincial government for a treatment centre in the community for those dealing with drug or mental health issues.

'In the last month and a half, I've been at six funerals and I'm tired of burying young people'

About 300 people turned up at a public meeting in New Waterford to discuss how they might tackle drug abuse and mental health issues in the community. (George Mortimer/CBC)

More than 300 people gathered at the New Waterford fire hall last night to lobby the provincial government for a treatment centre in the community for those dealing with drug or mental health issues.

The public meeting was organized by people who have lost family members to drug overdoses.

They've formed a new citizen's group they're calling A Town That Cares.

Tom Blanchard is executive director of Talbot House, an addiction treatment and recovery centre in Frenchvale, N.S.

He said drug addiction is at a crisis level in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality.

"I'm telling you we are in crisis and this isn't an opioid crisis because we deal with all drugs. In the last month and a half, I've been at six funerals and I'm tired of burying young people in this community," said Blanchard.

He told the gathering he's having trouble accessing services.

"The police force is carrying the weight of the lack of psychiatrists and counsellors in this area."

Tom Blanchard is the executive director of Talbot House an addiction treatment and recovery centre. He said Cape Breton is in the midst of a drug abuse crisis. (George Mortimer/CBC)

He said a recent crisis involving one of their residents in care was concerning.

"Thank you to the police force for helping this young man who was suicidal that I had to go into the woods with a flashlight to find. The officers went and found him, I'm grateful for that and I thank you." 

Drug abuse at the root of most crimes

Cape Breton Regional Police Chief Peter MacIsaac told the gathering their officers are working every shift to investigate suspected drug cases, but he said they can't do it alone.

"I can tell you from a policing perspective, just about every crime that happens in this community, we can trace it back to a root cause involving drugs." 

"Ten per cent of our police force is made up of street crime, drug officers, community safety enforcement officers — every single day they are prioritizing files." 

Cape Breton Regional Police Chief Peter MacIsaac says he needs more help from the public in finding the people responsible for selling drugs. (John Ratchford)

He asked for more public help in finding those responsible for selling illegal drugs.

"I would like to see you folks co-operate with us more for those who are responsible for selling drugs in our community."

Dr. Venkata Puppala has a family practice in Sydney and he's joined the group.

"When I look through the addiction profile, it's a problem that arises out of mental health — and based on that, one in five people will have serious mental health or addictions." 

Dr. Venkata Puppala said a treatment centre could provide immediate service to people in crisis. (George Mortimer/CBC)

'Kids are dying every day on us'

Puppala said a treatment centre could offer outreach services and provide immediate treatment to those in crisis. 

"So if somebody has a drug abuse problem and they want to be seen by somebody they will walk into this clinic and they don't have to have a family doctor, and they will hook you up with whatever services you need."

John Bisson speaks for the group. He said the huge turnout points to the very serious situation the community is facing. He said the current mental health system in CBRM is not adequate to deal with the problem. 

"Kids are dying every day on us. We have nothing here now. We have a seven to 10 day program at the regional, it doesn't do nothing. We need a major facility," he said. 

"These kids need to know how to get back into the community. Once they're on drugs for so long they distance themselves from people. They just don't know how to react to anybody anymore and we need follow up programs after their discharge," he said. 

Bisson said their next step is to meet with whomever wins the election and forms the government.

About the Author

George Mortimer

Reporter

George Mortimer is a longtime reporter in Cape Breton.