'They are killing people': RNC chief says drug problem in St. John's is real and needs action

A town hall focused on problems with drugs in the community is the first step toward a community-based approach to St. John's drug problems, speakers say.

Joe Boland says St. John's has issues he never expected

RNC Chief Joe Boland says the community's drug problem is real and needs action on all sides. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

There's a real drug problem in St. John's, and it will take the whole community to solve it.

That was the message Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Chief Joe Boland sent loud and clear Wednesday night at a town hall meeting at Waterford Valley High School.

"This is a community issue," he said.

"There are a lot of organizations in this community. I think we could line up a little bit better to support each other and take on this issue."

An RNC officer watches as Health Minister John Haggie addresses the crowd. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

The town hall was set up by Siobhan Coady, MHA for St. John's West. Speakers included Boland, and Health Minister John Haggie.

Boland, who took over the role as chief of police in June, said he's been surprised at the extent of the drug problems in the city.

"To be honest with you, I didn't think I'd ever see some of the things we are seeing now with needle use and the addictions," he said.

Health Minister John Haggie spoke about addictions and mental health at Thursday night's town hall meeting. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

Especially concerning, he said, are the opioids and the devastation they can inflict.

"You take drugs like fentanyl and oxycodone, they are killing people and I don't think we saw that back then," he said.

"This is something that, when I was a young cop, we thought that this was something that happened in New York, Vancouver or Toronto. It's very real. It's very real right across this country, right across North America, the drugs that we are seeing and the number of people that they are killing."

Minister Haggie, Minister Coady and RNC Chief Joe Boland take questions from the crowd at Thursday's town hall meeting. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

Coady said the evening gave her a lot to bring back to her government, including the idea that holding similar town hall meetings in high schools could help make headway.

She said the drug problem in her district is a "multi-departmental issue" and more departments need to be involved.

"As it was said tonight, it really takes a village," she said. "We need a holistic approach."

Chief Joe Boland said the time for that approach is now.

"We are here to send a message that we are going to get our heads together on this," he said.

"We are going to make this community a better place to live in."

Thursday's town hall meeting about drugs in the community was held at Waterford Valley High School. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

With files from Jeremy Eaton