New Brunswick

Fredericton MLA worries 'political will' not there to fight crystal meth

David Coon, the MLA for Fredericton South, describes crystal meth as a "diabolical" drug that is hurting communities, and doing permanent damage to the people who use it.

David Coon says social problems in New Brunswick are increasing because 'we are not dealing with them'

David Coon, the MLA for Fredericton South, suggests New Brunswick co-operate with the other Maritime provinces to open residential rehabilitation centres across the region to help people recovering from crystal meth addiction. (CBC)

David Coon, the MLA for Fredericton South, describes crystal meth as a "diabolical" drug that is hurting communities and doing permanent damage to the people who use it.

"It's a huge problem and we're losing people," said Coon, the leader of the Green Party. "We're not putting the emphasis we need to on social problems in this province."

He is adding his voice to the calls for more long-term rehabilitation beds for those trying to recover from addiction, better co-operation among government departments and more outreach and case workers.

"It all comes down to the lack of political will, and I think that it's terrible to say, but I think too many politicians take the view there aren't a lot of votes in … helping addicts."

Coon said police are doing their part to stop the supply of the dangerous stimulant, but at its core it is a social problem, and the province needs a plan.

"Mental health and addictions has been treated by the Department of Health for a very long time as a poor cousin," said Coon. "At least by the leadership and the ministers over the years."

Social Development Minister Dorothy Shephard and Health Minister Ted Flemming aren't talking publicly about how to improve services for people addicted to crystal meth. Fredericton MLA David Coon wonders if their departments are too big and should be restructured. (CBC)

Both Health Minister Ted Flemming and Social Development Minister Dorothy Shephard were unavailable to discuss whether their respective departments are looking at any policy changes that might improve services for people trying to recover.

After meeting with public servants and trying to help constituents in his riding to access services, Coon believes it may be time to change the structure of the departments.

He suggests government look at an integrated service delivery model for adults.

It's an approach that is now used with children who are struggling with behaviour and mental health issues, where employees from different departments work together to provide support in a streamlined way.

We need to restructure things so that we can better address effectively and more rapidly … social problems — like the ballooning problem we've got right now with crystal meth addiction.- David Coon, Fredericton South MLA

"That's going to require restructuring as well as cultural change within our departments, and that's got to come from the ministers on down."

Coon also believes there is "too much in the same basket" for some of the government ministers, including the minister of social development.

"She's got long-term care and seniors and children in care and at risk, she's got people living in poverty and social assistance, and she's got public housing … the same goes for the Department of Health."

He said public servants should be consulted for advice on how to "make things go" within government.

Right tools needed

"I know that sounds kind of mundane and abstract but really, if you don't have the right tools you're not going to get the job done," he said.

"We need to restructure things so that we can better address effectively and more rapidly … social problems — like the ballooning problem we've got right now with crystal meth addiction." 

Coon also wants government to look at the idea of co-operating with the other Maritime provinces to increase the number of long-term rehabilitation beds available to people who want to recover from their addiction.

"That's something that is ripe for collaboration," he said. "Pool our money together and establish an adequate number of centres that provide this kind of long-term treatment."

In the meantime Coon agrees with Dr. Heather Logan, an addictions and mental health doctor in Fredericton, that more outreach is critical.

New Brunswick has 24 beds for residential addictions treatment, including 12 beds at Campbellton Addiciton Services and 12 beds at Ridgewood Addiction Services in Saint John, pictured here, which offers a 30-day program. Campbellton is the only site that offers individualized treatment for mental health and addictions at the same time. (CBC)

"We need to put people out on the street from Health and Social Development … to get at this," said Coon.

"It's our responsibility to ensure that those who are in such dire straits, who've become addicted to this diabolical drug, can get our help."

Communities want change

Coon said in the absence of adequate government support for those trying to recover from addiction, communities are coming up with solutions of their own.

Recently, he received a proposal from the Fredericton Downtown Community Health Centre, together with the emergency shelter, to help people who want to stop using crystal meth.

It takes leadership from the top and it takes political will to say, 'This is a priority.' It is a priority for me. That's why I'm talking about it.- David Coon, Fredericton South MLA

Every constituency in New Brunswick receives $50,000 under the new Community Investment Fund, and Coon reviews the ideas for Fredericton South.

"It was an excellent proposal to look at whether or not there was a particular medication that would play the same kind of role that methadone does for people who were getting off of opioids for crystal meth. Because nothing at this point is available."

Coon said the Regional Development Corporation told him the proposal didn't meet the criteria set by the Community Investment Fund, which is intended for "community events" and "community growth initiatives."

Coon points out that under the criteria, projects that "support the community's well-being" are eligible.  

"I said, 'Well, I think in terms of community investment and enhancing the well-being of the community, if there is a way of supporting people to get off crystal meth with something like methadone which currently doesn't exist, we should be trying to do that.'"

Coon said the request illustrates how concerned communities are.

"We've got some serious social problems that are increasing in this province because we are not dealing with them," he said.

"It takes leadership from the top and it takes political will to say, 'This is a priority.' It is a priority for me. That's why I'm talking about it."

A New Brunswick doctor says bureaucracy is getting in the way of effective treatment for people with addiction. 12:24

Police call for co-operation

Saint John Police said in a news release on Thursday that officers are seeing a steep increase in calls related to crystal meth and methamphetamine pills known as ice.

In 2017, there were 21 calls related to the stimulant, in 2018 it jumped to 71 and so far in 2019 there have been 88 calls.

Saint John police say people who use crystal meth can be dangerous to the public, and to officers. The latest statistics show the number of calls related to crystal meth have gone from 21 in 2017, to 88 so far in 2019. (Brian Chisholm, CBC)

"The unpredictability of what the drugs can do to your body is frightening," said Acting Sgt. Clay Tremblay, who is with the street crime unit.

 "Users … sometimes exhibit amazing strength, use weapons to fight off what they see as demons and have absolutely no memory of what they have done or said once the high wears off."

Police in Saint John said it is "imperative" that all police departments share information in an effort to reduce the supply of crystal meth and other forms of methamphetamine."

About the Author

Vanessa Blanch is a reporter based in Moncton. She has worked across the country for CBC for nearly 20 years. If you have story ideas to share please email: vanessa.blanch@cbc.ca

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