By Jennifer Hoegg
Mark Mander is still waiting for a phone call from the Minister of Health.
Kentville’s police chief appeared on CTV’s W5 Oct. 13 to talk about prescription drug addiction in the Valley. He has been speaking publicly on the issue since Josh Graves’ March 2011 prescription drug-related death, when a 2010 letter he wrote to the provincial minister was released to the media.
Crime and drug and alcohol abuse are “intimately connected,” Mander said Friday, but his position is not just from a crime prevention standpoint.
“I look at it from a community perspective. It’s a crisis. It’s a crisis when you have that many people addicted to narcotics,” he said.
“(The Province is) moving in a very positive direction,” Mander said, with changes to the prescription monitoring system, prescribing guidelines and addictions’ treatment. He also speaks highly of Kevin Fraser and staff with Annapolis Valley Health’s methadone treatment program.
“Excellent program. There was a need for that program, so that people aren’t trying to self-medicate,” Mander said. “It slows the trade down in methadone.”
However, “we’re treating people that are addicted or have addiction issues with narcotics with methadone,” he said. “We no longer have this waiting list, but we have hundreds of people on methadone - does that not show us we have a problem?”
From Mander’s point of view, responsibility for opiate addictions lies at the feet of the government.
“We should not be creating addicts. That falls on the responsibility of the minister,” he said. “If the only source of those narcotics is the health care system itself, it ought to be looking at its processes.
“Someone has to ask ’if we have these deaths what are you doing to prevent those deaths?’… ‘What did we do to mitigate the risk for people?’“
Mander wants to see a “comprehensive surveillance system… with all the partners in the room talking about morbidity and mortality.”
He also wants to see legislation regulating how narcotics are dispensed, training for family doctors on recognizing addictions, better assessments for pain and expanded access to pain management clinics.
“There needs to be more patient education and more doctor education and for pharmacists,” Mander said. “The prescription monitoring system needs more teeth.”
Mander said the expanded, 24-hour access to the system is a “step in the right direction.”
“But doctors have to look at it. If they aren’t made to look at it then they can still make decisions without the advice of that system.”
There should be more than guidelines for doctors, he said.
“If we pay them to do something, than we should hold them accountable. One of those outcomes shouldn’t be that we give people pills that make them die.“
This is not about ‘oh, those bad doctors,’ but how can we make positive change in our community. - Kentville Police Chief Mark Mander
Increased conversation between doctors and pharmacists is important, he added.
“This is not about ‘oh, those bad doctors,’ but how can we make positive change in our community,” Mander said. “Ninety per cent of physicians get it.”
Mander expressed disappointment that the province seemed to be in damage control mode before the TV show aired.
“They should be looking at it like ‘hey, are we doing enough there because they are still talking about it.”
Mander takes exception comments by to Dr. Gus Grant, registrar with the College of Physicians and Surgeons, that many of those who die from drug abuse are “disenfranchised”
“How dare he categorize people that have died in our communities that way,” Mander said. “Everyone is known and has families and friends who have been significantly impacted by the addiction and subsequent death.
A member of the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse’ National Advisory Council on Prescription Drug Misuse, Mander said the provinces should prepare to act on strategic plan the council is working on.
“We had all the players in that room that needed to be there. If they are really engaged in making change they need to support that.”
In the meantime, Mander is still waiting.
“To this day, the Minister of Health has not picked up the phone and called me to return my phone message, to have a conversation,” he said.
“We elect people to certain offices in a community because we have an expectation that they are the gatekeepers. That they would protect us from things such as this… that they would be the ones that ask the tough questions.”
Mander is the co-chairman of the opiate issues council. Formed in 2011, the local group includes police, health, social services, court and education representatives.
He said their work has been productive so far in discussing and supporting Annapolis Valley Health’s programs.
The council is organizing a “take back” initiative in November so that members of the community can safely drop off unused prescriptions.
“Considering the issues we have in the Valley, this is a way everyone can get involved in solutions,” he said. “Twenty to 30 per cent of kids get access to narcotics in their own medicine cabinet.
“It’s a community health and safety issue.”