Nova Scotia

9 dead since Kentville police warning

Kentville Police Chief Mark Mander says nine people have died since he warned the province about prescription drug abuse in the Annapolis Valley.

Kentville Police Chief Mark Mander says nine people have died since he warned the province about prescription drug abuse in the Annapolis Valley.

Mander sent a letter to three provincial ministers 15 months ago.

"I can’t understand why it would take this long to deal with a problem this serious," he told CBC News on Wednesday.

He said the nine drug-related deaths are only those confirmed by police, and there may be more.

Mander showed CBC bottles of Dilaudid, methadone, a large envelope of cash and other drug paraphernalia recently seized by his police force in an undercover sting.

"We have observed people walking out of pharmacies with their prescriptions and selling them to an awaiting customer in the parking lot," he said.

Recovering addict Larry Ward says prescription drugs are heavily over-prescribed in the Annapolis Valley.

Larry Ward, a recovered prescription drug abuser, said the prescription drugs are more addictive than cocaine. He describes his addiction to Dilaudid as "the most difficult ordeal" of his life.

Ward said it's too easy to get prescription drugs in the area. He fears more people will die.

Annapolis Valley Fighting Addictions is a grassroots Kentville group that’s been lobbying for help. Group spokesperson Leslie Tilley said doctors have responded to the group’s demonstrations and are prescribing less oxycodone, Percocet and Dilaudid.

Dr. John Campbell, director of mental health and addiction services for Annapolis Valley Health, met with the group.  He said he will review each death personally, because he finds the numbers alarming.

Physicians 'easy targets': police chief

Mander sent his letter to Health Minister Maureen MacDonald, Justice Minister Ross Landry and Community Services Minister Denise Peterson-Rafuse on Jan. 15, 2010 (letter below lists incorrect date).

He called the drug-related deaths at the time an "unspoken pandemic of Nova Scotia."

In his letter, Mander noted problems with the province's prescription monitoring program. He suggested talking to local pharmacists to find out which doctors are "pumping out the prescriptions" and which patients are frequent customers.

"Our intelligence shows that the prescribed opiate painkillers we find are not imported from some far away exotic location by organized crime," writes Mander.  "These drugs are obtained by drug addicts who learn about physicians who are easy targets and readily write these prescriptions."

Mander said the public would expect warnings and a coroner's inquest. He said more work is needed to stop methadone from being sold on the street.

"Why is the Department of Health focused on resources that come after someone is addicted and not focused on education and prevention at the front end?" he writes in the letter.

The province has struck a working group to look into these issues and make improvements, but Mander said the group hasn't accomplished anything. Mander said it met three times and didn't notify him about a single meeting.

"The government has to break down the silos that separate the department of health, justices and community service and begin to work together to deal with this," he said.

MacDonald told CBC News Mander's numbers haven't yet been confirmed.

"The numbers that the chief has provided are numbers that I have yet to have confirmed by the chief medical examiner, but we are aware that there are prescription related deaths in our province every year."