Saturday, March 30, 2013


The CBC's radio program, The Current, focused this week on one of Canada's biggest killers - prescription drugs.

Our friend and colleague, Candace Plattor, was among the people interviewed early in the piece.

Have a listen:

This is a strong and important and
well-done example of solid journalism.

Thursday, March 14, 2013


The following letter was sent from Randy Hawes, Liberal MLA for Abbotsford-Mission, to Province columnist Jon Ferry. The highlighting is mine.


Thank you for your article. I apologize for the length of my e-mail; however, as this is an issue close to the heart of a number of MLAs, I thought you should know what we have been doing.

Last year a small MLA committee was formed in frustration over the continuing reliance by health authorities to employ their ‘harm reduction’ model of ‘best practice’ which immediately treats all opiate addictions with methadone. The committee was formed without input from the Premier’s office or cabinet out of frustration that huge funds are being expended on addictions treatment without any apparent success.

We began by asking a series of questions of the health authorities through the Minister’s office.  We wanted to know wait times for detox and residential treatment; where funded treatment is available and how many funded beds; how much is spent on addictions versus mental health; and what tracking systems are employed to measure success for the funds expended. The answers were evasive and many questions were ignored.

We found that wait times are sufficiently significant as to indicate that addicts presenting for treatment do not get that treatment when appropriate. It is well known that when an addict is ready for treatment the response must be immediate or the opportunity may be lost. Clearly the health system is not responding on a timely basis.

We found that funded residential beds are almost exclusively for harm reduction (methadone) patients. Treatment and recovery facilities operating on an abstinence basis appear to be philosophically rejected for funding.  Abstinence residential beds either for profit private pay centers or non-profit society operated with patient social assistance payment, community fund raising, and in some cases a small “top-up” from the Social Development Ministry to about 30 dollars daily.
We also found that there appears to be no tracking of patients leaving health funded treatment. This of course means there is no way to determine how successful the ‘best practice harm reduction’ model is performing. Without any registry system or follow up addicts can leave one funded treatment regime and go into another a few weeks later and there is no way of knowing that they have relapsed. That translates to a lack of accountability for the funds expended.

To get a feel for addiction services in the Province, we visited treatment facilities in various regions. The story was consistent throughout. Non-funded abstinence based facilities struggled with finances but enjoyed significant success. Funded facilities were reluctant to discuss their core beliefs but clearly many were not supportive of the ‘harm reduction’ model. They spoke of threatened funding loss by the health authorities should they speak publicly in non-support of the methadone program. 

We spoke to some abstinence based service providers who said they at times got patients from the health funded programs who, as part of the harm reduction model, had been administered a variety of drugs in addition to methadone for anxiety or depression issues.
There was a very clear difference in outlet procedures between the funded and non-funded facilities. The health funded facilities had a specific number of residential days allotted to each bed. Generally these were a maximum of a 60 day stay. The non-funded abstinence based facilities generally had a 90 day and up patient stay but in most cases this would be extended if the patient was not strong enough to continue in recovery outside.

We visited the Welcome Home facility in Surrey which is an absolutely astounding abstinence based program. Residents come for a minimum 2 years, learn interpersonal skills, work skills, and life skills. They work in the PricePro store in Surrey as part of the program. All are required to discontinue any social assistance payments they might have been receiving.   Welcome Home has a very high success rate and receives no support of any kind from the Fraser Health Authority. We were informed that Welcome Home had offered to assist Fraser Health in shortening its wait list for treatment by taking any addicts that preferred the abstinence model. We were told that Fraser Health absolutely refused to refer anyone for treatment as they had a philosophical bias against the abstinence model.

We also visited Portage at the Crossing in Keremeos. It is a residential treatment facility for children. Portage does receive funding from Coastal and Fraser Health Authorities for 42 beds. They are one of the only abstinence based programs we could find that was funded by health authorities. We were in receipt of a memo from Coastal Health Authority outlining a plan to cease funding Portage as they claimed that community based treatment was more effective for children and youth. When we visited there were only 18 of over 60 total beds filled and Coastal claimed there was no demand for the remaining funded beds.  We were informed that Portage had been instructed that they were not to advertise their youth service and intake was to be through the health authority screening system. We learned that the screening process was multi-stepped and took considerable time. There was a belief that this was deliberately done to avoid placement thus making the case for funding cessation. 

There has now been a new contract let with Portage that assures it remains open and we believe it is as a result of pressure from several MLAs.

The Ministry and the health authorities continue to claim that they support a variety of treatment modalities including abstinence however all of the evidence at the ground level shows this to be not the case. Abstinence based programs are clearly not part of the current best practice definition employed by the health authorities and as a result, funding for treatment in an abstinence modality is not provided.

It is apparent to those who look outside the verbiage provided through the health authorities that addictions treatment in British Columbia is failing and there is little or no accountability for the funding provided for that treatment.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


Harm reduction just keeps addicts enslaved

Jon Ferry

Photograph by: Graphics, The Province

The UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs is meeting in Vienna this week to recommend measures to combat the world drug problem.

But in Vancouver, the war against illegal drugs appears to have been won already by those who favour "harm reduction," with its publicly funded crackpipe kits, safe-injection rooms and "free" heroin and methadone fixes.

This does little more than apply a Band-Aid — as opposed to abstinence-based treatment, which actually gets people off drugs but is frowned upon by the politically correct powers-that-be.

No, the current mantra among grant-hungry activists, medical researchers and politicians is to feed the need, not starve it — which is why as many addicts as ever roam Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

However, I think abstinence may well be making a comeback. And I'm heartened to see two celebs, one local and one international, giving it a new cachet.

British comedian Russell Brand, songstress Katy Perry's ex, said in Britain's Spectator magazine that he believes in abstinence-based programs in helping addicts/alcoholics stay clean and sober. He also wrote eloquently of his addict friend, singer Amy Winehouse.

 "What was so painful about Amy Winehouse's death is that I know that there is something I could have done. I could have passed on to her the solution that was freely given to me. Don't pick up a drink or drug, one day at a time," he said. "It sounds so simple, it actually is simple, but it isn't easy — it requires incredible support and fastidious structuring."

Brand says that, without a structured recovery program, he'd still be taking drugs. "Because even now the condition persists," he noted. "Drugs and alcohol are not my problem — reality is my problem. Drugs and alcohol are my solution."

The local celebrity is David Berner, former actor, former Province columnist and current public-affairs host on Shaw community TV.

Berner has just published All the Way Home, a must-read book about how in 1967 he started Canada's first residential treatment centre for drug addicts and alcoholics in Vancouver — and how, based in Winnipeg, it continues to turn out sober/clean citizens to this day.

Berner is a natural storyteller. And it's the ex-cons and other colourful characters he describes that make the book a page-turner.

But he also disses harm reduction and says he doesn't believe addiction should be treated as a disease requiring ongoing treatment by high-priced doctors and nurses.

What's really needed, he says, are recovery centres run by ex-addicts, social workers and psychologists at a fifth of the taxpayer cost ($50,000 as opposed to $250,000 a year).

"Addictions, properly understood, are an emotional, psychological, social, behavioural and spiritual problem," he noted.

Berner and Brand are both witty, accomplished guys with a wealth of addiction experience. Governments in B.C. should listen to them.

The success rates for abstinence programs may not be high (never much more than 50 per cent), but they do help scores of addicts become drug-free. Keeping them on drugs, as the harm-reduction theorists advocate, simply keeps them enslaved.

Monday, March 11, 2013



Recovery society being evicted from Delta hotel

By Boaz Joseph - Surrey North Delta Leader
Published: February 26, 2013 12:00 PM
Updated: February 27, 2013 10:33 AM
It made perfect financial sense for Jim O'Rourke.

Rather than overpay for two recently rented houses, the executive director of a local addiction recovery service decided to move into a North Delta hotel.

Rooms would be rented on an as-needed basis, he concluded.

In the first week of February, VisionQuest Recovery Society rented the third floor of the North Delta Inn, where its clients, 20 recovering addicts under court order to get clean, proceeded to also clean up the hotel.

With permission from hotel management, VisionQuest cleaned the walls, tore out old carpets, replaced dirty mattresses and fixed leaking pipes.

They also brought in their own furniture.

Just weeks in, the society is being evicted, despite its best intentions – and a justice system-supported reputation for turning around the lives of addicts.

The group must be gone by March 1, according to a notice by Delta bylaw officials, who cited that hotel space rented to a recovery society contravened Delta Zoning Bylaw No. 2750.

"They think I'm trying to open up a treatment centre," O'Rourke said. "(But) they hold all the aces."
Mayor Lois Jackson said Delta is just following procedure.

“The real issue here is the property owner failing to follow an established long-standing rezoning application process,” said Jackson in a Feb. 26 press release. "This is standard procedure applicable to all municipalities operating under the Local Government Act, not just the Corporation of Delta."

She added that at no time did the property owner of the North Delta Inn or VisionQuest contact the municipality to discuss permitted uses and their proposed occupancy, and that in principle, she has no problem with VisionQuest operating in Delta if it complies with zoning regulations.

Photo: Jim O'Rourke at the North Delta Inn.

O'Rourke was informed by his lawyer on Wednesday that a judge has rejected VisionQuest's appeal against the eviction, and that Delta bylaw officers will be on scene on Friday to carry out the municipality's orders.
Formed in 1995, VisionQuest currently runs 10 recovery homes in Surrey, Langley and Abbotsford. The non-profit society's motto is "crime prevention through rehabilitation," and it takes a no-nonsense, cold-turkey approach to addiction treatment.
The program is 90 days, although clients are not forced to leave afterwards.

"If they don't have a place to go that's not solid for them… a lot of these guys don't have homes to go back to," said drug and alcohol counsellor Frank Degenstien. "If they've got somewhere to come, they're not doing crimes on the street."

The clients are prolific offenders, and have been ordered by judges and prosecutors to take the VisionQuest program – the alternative is prison, they're told.

"The Crown and prosecutors know the reputation we have, that if they decide to bolt, we file the report immediately," said Degenstien. "The judges, they trust VisionQuest."

O'Rourke admits it's difficult to get public support and donations for his society because clients are "convicts and they've broken lots of laws."

But he said recovery is a major part of crime prevention.

He keeps his cellphone on at all times, for calls from addicts' family members, who more than once have stated: "He's a good boy."

 O'Rourke agrees.

"They all are when they're not using dope."

For more information or to help with space, call Jim O'Rourke at 604-537-4401, email or visit