For a few years now I have been following through the media the rise of methamphetamine in our community. The highly addictive substance, once used as an aide to keep soldiers alert within the ranks of Nazi Germany has taken an active hold of many in on our region.
In today’s Brandon Sun (July 25) the headline read, “Crystal meth blamed for rising crime rates”. It was not buried in the middle section of the paper, it was the main, above the fold headline and it serves as a wake-up call.
Earlier this week Winnipeg Police Chief Danny Smythe stood shoulder to shoulder with leaders in the community to share that Winnipeg was, as he put it, a “community in crisis”. For years the provincial capital has witnessed a sharp rise in drug use and drug-related issues and it should serve as a warning beacon for our community. The happenings in our city are often a microcosm of the issues Winnipegers face, something Deputy Chief Randy Lewis of the Brandon Police Service shared in the Sun article.
It has reached a point that we can no longer play food-chain politics with the issue. Although much of the “jurisdiction” for combating this issue from a public health standpoint rests outside of the realm of municipal politics, the community and our city council must continue to show leadership and advocacy on the opioid crisis. Part of that leadership came from choices made by the Brandon Police Board and the City of Brandon to allocate additional resources to a drug investigation officer and a youth intelligence officer. Both of these moves were good first steps in a multi-pronged approach to dealing with the opioid crisis in our community. We need to take it to the next level though. As a community we must continue to lobby other levels of government to have supports available in our community, and to provide for safe detoxification opportunities. From a policing standpoint we won’t merely be able to arrest our way out of the issue but a commitment to reallocation efforts for front-line supports is integral.
The second step comes through educating youth and furthering causes like our current Mayor’s anti-drug forum “NEO Not Even Once”. These are powerful tools to connect with youth in the Brandon School Division about the dangers of drug use. Further to this, as a community we must be ever mindful about ensuring we are providing opportunity for youth to become engaged, whether through sport, youth groups, activities, clubs or the like; active youth are often less likely to become involved in substance abuse. (as an aside here is an effort authored by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime where communities can use performance opportunities or sport to help combat substance abuse among youth. It is worth a read).
A few weeks back I responded to a question on a similar topic in a facebook community forum organized by local advocate Kim Longstreet. At the time I shared my thoughts on the challenges our community faces on the issue of discarded needles throughout the city. I think many of those same thoughts ring true when we look at the issues of crystal meth. It is not just a “downtown issue”. It affects every corner of our city, whether it be the increase in paraphernalia left behind, or the sharp rise in property crime to feed addiction, it is a problem we as a community must face together.
From the post regarding the rise of discarded needles in our community:
“ I think the approach should be holistic. I wholeheartedly support the work the Brandon Bear Clan does in identifying heavy use areas, and their assistance with those who are often the most vulnerable in the community. Furthermore, ensuring resources continue to be available for police to combat the travel of narcotics into the community is crucial as will making sure police are equipped to stop the ease of access.
On a larger scale, the city needs to remain connected to the provincial discussion regarding safe injection sites. The difficulty with this model is the geography of it, safe injection sites tend to be most effective when it is a small geographic area with a concentrated user base (for example Downtown Vancouver). In our city, much like Winnipeg, discarded needles are not merely concentrated in a particular area. The one benefit it does serve though is potentially connecting addicts with necessary public health resources, so there is great value in that discussion. I know in some European countries they have witnessed the positive effects (mainly connecting addicts with resources, detox etc.) as a result of using these safe zones. More importantly though would be lobbying to be sure detox opportunities are available, beyond detox in the home (which has been proven less effective). As a municipal council it would be difficult to go this road alone, but supporting the need is a more wide-ranging discussion where advocates could come from all walks of life and facets of our community.
I see this as a community-wide approach that involves many different groups (including police, RHA, Bear Clan, Council, community leaders, residents etc.). One of the most effective steps Brandon took in that regard was under former police chief Ian Grant when they established the early intervention community mobilization team. This resource will continue to be invaluable to our community as we look to stem some of the challenges we face.”
I welcome your feedback on the issue and look forward to continuing to have this important and necessary discussion with residents in our community.