Dr. Michael Ma, in KPU’s Department of Criminology, is studying problematic drug use along Surrey’s 135A Street. (Photo: Amy Reid)

VIDEO: Study reveals ‘sobering’ truths about drug use on Surrey’s 135A Street

KPU professor categorizes his findings thus far as ‘interesting, but not surprising’

A KPU professor is in the midst of a study that aims to highlight patterns of drug use along Surrey’s infamous Strip.

Dr. Michael Ma, in the university’s Department of Criminology, says he embarked on his research due to the lack of academic focus on drug use in Surrey, despite the staggering number of overdose deaths in the city.

Current academic research focuses largely on Vancouver’s Downtown East Side, he says, while little has been published on patterns in Surrey.

According to data released by the B.C. Coroners Service, 174 people died of drug overdose in Surrey last year. That’s up from 122 in 2016, 76 in 2015, 44 in 2014 and 36 in 2013.

See also: Surrey overdose death toll jumps to 174 in 2017

See also: City defends $288K spent on Surrey Outreach Team along 135A Street

The only city in B.C. with a higher overdose death toll than Surrey was Vancouver, which saw 348 fatalities last year.

But Ma noted Fraser Health had the highest number of illicit drug overdose deaths with fentanyl detected in 2017 (377), eclipsing Vancouver Coastal Health’s total of 337.

Ma held a talk at KPU on Feb. 13 revealing the preliminary results of his survey, which is aimed at expanding empirical knowledge of drug use in Surrey, to “shed much needed light on the neglected area of Surrey.”

So far, Ma said 80 people have completed his 41-question survey, with another 120 more to go before his final results are published.

Ma categorizes his findings thus far as “interesting, but not surprising.”

“Some of the things I’ve discovered we may have suspected, but we didn’t know until we conducted the survey,” he said.

“Number one: in terms of the racial mix of people who find themselves in this very problematic substance use, roughly half are self identified as Caucasian, but the other half, about 45 per cent, self-identify as Indigenous or other,” he said. “There is a lot of First Nation representation in terms of problematic substance use on 135A street.”

Ma also found it interesting that the vast majority of people on 135A Street were educated in line with the general population.

“Seventy per cent said they had high school and another 20 odd per cent said they had university or college. It’s very much in line with the mainstream population. The people who find themselves in this problematic substance use are not necessarily these outliers in terms of education and life goals. They actually probably had a pretty traditional presentation before their substance use.”

See more: More than 1,400 people in B.C. died of drug overdoses in 2017

See also: ‘Urgent care’ mental health and addiction centre announced for Surrey

Ma said it “should be no surprise, but is good to know empirically” that 90 per cent of the people surveyed on 135A Street so far were homeless, nine per cent were in shelters and less than one per cent had some type of traditional housing.

Ninety-nine per cent of respondents said they’d been homeless in the last six months.

Meantime, the median number of times people had overdosed was six, he said.

“That’s quite extreme, to overdose again and again and again,” said Ma.

“In terms of detox, in terms of solutions, the people who find themselves with problematic substance use who live hopelessly on 135A in these tents, many have also sought treatment or detox. So about 60 per cent of these people who live in those tents of 135A street find themselves there after going though detox or treatment, not for lack of wanting.”

In the survey, more than half of respondents said they wanted to go into detox or treatment, but were unable.

“That’s a very sad statistic,” said Ma. “Again, not surprising, but when you find it supported by the evidence of a survey, it’s quite sobering.”

See also: Zero deaths, 20,000 visits to Surrey’s safe injection site since opening

See also: VIDEO: Surrey woman, 63, pricked by used needle

Ma said there are only 60 public detox beds in the Lower Mainland, 30 of which are in Surrey.

“You can imagine the demand for those beds,” said Ma.

Private pay, he added, costs $940 a day for a seven day stay, “so it’s quite a business.”

Ma acknowledged that his survey is a limited snapshot of the overdose epidemic.

“Future studies would look at people not addressed. Who is overdosing in Surrey? People who are home, in their condos, watching Netflix. Those are people who can’t be addressed by this survey,” he said.

“In the future I will try to expand the survey to try and look at other populations, or conduct the survey elsewhere. We have limited time and resources in the academy. I would love to have a much bigger, multi-pronged research project.”

Ma said he is also seeking out more “granular” data from B.C. Coroners Service to get a better understanding around circumstances in fatal overdoses. “I’m looking into that now with a student, doing FOIs, to get more granular data” to look deeper at who is overdosing in Surrey, he said.



amy.reid@surreynowleader.com

Like us on Facebook Follow us on Instagram and follow Amy on Twitter

Just Posted

Whalley cadets fundraising in Surrey this weekend

Dollars raised are more important than ever, with 767 Dearman Squadron on the hunt for a new home

Abbotsford ‘not in a foreign country,’ judge chastises lawyer

Judge addresses complaint about inconvenience of driving from Vancouver

Amended Delta zoning bylaw moves forward

Suite parking now allowed in front yards, but the North Delta housing cap remains in place

Surrey awards contract for Hawthorne Park improvements

Roughly $1 million contract is first of three phases of upgrades to the Surrey park

Surrey council votes to cap public hearing speakers to five minutes

Surrey man says the move is ‘destroying open consultations and transparency’

Surrey averaging one shooting a week in 2018

Police believe Friday night shooting in 13200-block of 62nd Avenue was targeted

Toddler breaks leg after boot sucked into escalator at Vancouver airport

A Calgary woman is reminding parents of the dangers of escalators after her toddler’s foot was stuck in one and he broke his leg

Gone Country: Gord Bamford, Washboard Union play Surrey benefit concert this summer

Annual party in Cloverdale raises funds for cancer-related causes

Sechelt man pleads guilty to second degree murder of mother

Denise ‘Esme’ Lachance was found dead on Oct. 1, 2014 in Sechelt

Moose creates uber Canadian Olympic moment

A Calgary man shares a truly Canadian moment on Twitter of a Moose enjoying the Olympics

Lower Mainland clinic forced to close after reaching daily patient limit

Maple Ridge one of many cities ailing from shortage of physicians

B.C. drunk driver unknowingly drags snowmobiles along highway

North District RCMP stopped a driver Sunday near Prince George whose two sleds had fallen off a flat deck trailer and were being dragged along behind his truck.

Canada reacts to Cassie Sharpe’s Olympic gold

From Prime Minister Trudeau to Ryan Reynolds, congratulations abound

BCHL Today: Shorthanded scoring binge for Victoria Grizzlies and Krall named POW

BCHL Today is a (near) daily look at whats going on around the league and the junior A world.

Most Read