Health minister promises action on Valley drug deaths

Nova Scotia's health minister promised to create more drug treatment spaces in the Annapolis Valley after a recent series of high profile deaths connected to prescription drugs.
Amy Graves reads the Gould report near a photo of her brother Josh. (CBC)

Nova Scotia's health minister promised Friday to create more drug treatment spaces in the Annapolis Valley after a recent series of high profile deaths connected to prescription drugs.

Health Minister Maureen MacDonald said that the province will provide more methadone treatment centre places and launch an education campaign to teach young people about the dangers of misusing prescription drugs, especially when mixed with alcohol.

Her comments followed the release of a report authored by Dr. Richard Gould, the local medical officer of health.

He was asked to examine the issue after several recent drug-related deaths in the area. Gould said police identified at least six sudden deaths in the Valley last year that appear to be related to drug abuse.

But he said the number of drug-related fatalities is similar to other parts of the province and so the solutions cannot be identified and implemented in the Annapolis Valley alone.

"This is a first step," MacDonald said. "We had Dr. Gould take a look at the information we were hearing from different sources and provide me with a clear understanding of what the situation is and as first steps, we know we will move in the direction of getting some public education, getting more methadone spaces for treatment." 

Victim died after high school party

Amy Graves was anxious to read the Gould report and reviewed it online just minutes after it was released Friday.

The Valley woman's brother Josh died two months ago after taking prescription drugs while he was drinking at a party.

"For it to get that far, to get into the hands of young adults at a high school party, celebrating someone's birthday…" she said. "He wasn't the only one doing them that night. There were many people who had done them that night; he was just the unlucky one who never woke up."

After her brother's death, she went public with his story and there has been a groundswell of support from other families who have lost loved ones.

public meeting in Berwick last month brought out lots of emotion as people fought to get more treatment for people battling drug problems.

Graves was at that meeting and she said she'll continue to use her brother's ordeal to help solve the abuse of prescription drugs in the Valley. 

"I don't want him to be remembered as one of these kids where everyone says 'Oh well, he took it, he deserved it, he knew the consequences when it was done,'" she said.

"Who's enabling these children to take these drugs? They're not grown in the backyard or made in the basement. They're prescribed by our doctors — that's the most disturbing part."

Graves said the Gould report is a good start in addressing the problem. She said it's important that the government follow through quickly on its recommendation.

Her biggest concern is that if they don't put measures in place right away, more people in the Valley will suffer the same fate as her brother.