British Columbia

Vancouver councillor wants review of methadone program abuses

A Vancouver councillor wants to crack down on landlords on the Downtown Eastside who, he alleges, are exploiting drug addicts who are on methadone maintenance programs.

Methadone dispensing abuse

12 years ago
Duration 2:47
Vancouver city council wants pharmacists, doctors and governments to work together to crack down on abuse, the CBC's Kirk Williams reports

A Vancouver councillor wants to crack down on landlords on the Downtown Eastside who, he alleges, are exploiting drug addicts who are on methadone maintenance programs.

Councillor Kerry Jang says the city has heard complaints from residents who say their landlords force them to use specific pharmacies for methadone or face eviction.

It's a practice the city wants to stamp out.

Jang and fellow councillor Tim Stevenson are introducing two motions on Tuesday calling for a task force to investigate how the city could improve conditions in the single occupancy room hotels, known as SRO's, and to investigate allegations of methadone prescription abuses at the hotels.

Downtown Eastside landlord George Wolsey lost his pharmacy licence after a CBC News investigation uncovered kickbacks to methadone addicts in 2008. ((CBC))
"Part of that of course from the city's point of view would be looking at ways of preventing evictions and making sure that buildings are in good condition, and to make sure that people aren't held hostage by their pharmacist," said Jang.

Jang says he also wants to prevent people who own a methadone dispensary from owning an SRO where they have a captive population of addicts who need to fill their prescriptions, which can be quite lucrative for pharmacists.

The B.C. government pays pharmacists about $16.30 for every daily dose of methadone they dispense. That translates into $6,000 a year in dispensing fees if a pharmacy can get a single addict to fill all of his or her prescriptions at its outlet.

Two hotels singled out

The motions going before council point to a number of problems at two places in particular, the Wonder Rooms and Palace Hotel, which are among the worst in downtown Vancouver, according to Jang

The residents at those hotels have complained of cockroaches, mice and mould, according to Jang.

But some residents enrolled in methadone programs also allege their landlords bully them into using certain pharmacies for their prescriptions or face eviction, he says.

One of those landlords is former pharmacist George Wolsey, who was the subject of a CBC investigation three years ago.

Wolsey eventually had his license taken away, but residents say he still exercises too much control over their lives.

"He can lock your door and throw you into the street. In the Downtown Eastside that's not a good place to be," said one resident whose identity was protected by the CBC for his safety.