Surrey Councillor Laurie Guerra says a drug rehab manager recently told her the Canada Emergency Response Benefit is “probably one of the worst things” for recovering addicts.
She asked city staff if the CERB is playing a role in increased drug overdoses here.
Guerra told council at its last meeting July 27, before the summer break, that she and Councillor Doug Elford had recently toured a drug rehab.
“One of the managers there was saying one of the worst problems, and I guess reasons why people were overdosing so much, is because of the CERB benefit,” Guerra told council. “He said it was probably one of the worst things that can happen for recovering addicts, to all of a sudden get a huge sum of money.”
She asked Surrey Fire Chief Larry Thomas to comment on whether that is “really indicative of what is really going on in the streets.”
Thomas replied, “I don’t think I can comment on that.
“Our people just respond to the crisis and we don’t where know the source, or how users get their drugs from. So I couldn’t answer that, I’m sorry.”
The CERB is administered by the federal government and helps support workers and the self-employed to weather the pandemic financially. Those eligible for the benefit can receive $2,000 for a period of four weeks – that is, $500 per week.
City Manager Vincent Lalonde said the opioid crisis remains a major health crisis “in itself” during the pandemic and that the city is trying to minimize the pandemic’s effect on it.
“There is an uptick in the opioid crisis that is escalating, I would say,” Lalonde said.
Thomas agreed that there’s been an increase in fatal overdoses in Surrey lately.
“Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria are the highest three townships in the province experiencing overdose fatalities with May being the highest previous and then June being higher than May,” Thomas said. “The Fire Service is working with the provincial health officer to try to adjust response, to get more Naloxone.”
Naloxone is a medication that’s used to suppress opioid’s effects on someone experiencing an overdose.
Thomas said part of the problem is that a high percentage of people who are fatally overdosing are using drugs alone, in their homes.
“So the health authorities have launched an app for users to use to help notify 911 if they can’t respond after using,” Thomas told council.
Surrey’s next council meeting is set for Sept. 15.