Cole Izsak says he has had to “discharge” – kick out for drug use – more than two dozen clients from his Surrey recovery home since April 1.
And, he dealt with three overdoses in May, two of which required the use of Narcan.
The frequency of both types of incidents are at levels Izsak describes as “substantially more” than what he typically sees at his Back on Track operation – prior to the pandemic, there had been no overdoses at the facility in “months,” he said.
But the South Surrey resident is certain he knows what is driving the increases: the emergency monies that have been made available to citizens by government to assist those whose jobs or income has been negatively impacted by the pandemic.
The extra cash – $2,000 per month through the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), the one-time $1,000 B.C. Emergency Benefit for Workers, plus the additional $300 per month for those on income or disability assistance who don’t qualify for the federal funding – has simply been too much for recovering addicts to handle, and has made the challenges of operating during COVID-19 exponentially more difficult as a result, Izsak said.
“It’s exasperated by the fact that our clients are accessing large sums of grant money and it’s resulting in a lot of using and relapsing, and it’s really kind of chaotic around here because of that,” Izsak told Peace Arch News.
“My issue is not that we weren’t given extra funding,” he added.
“But our clients – who have all their needs met and are suffering in no way any additional financial hardship because of COVID – they’re getting all this money… thousands of dollars, and they’re coming home with tattoos, and TVs and drugs.
“Our governments, kind and generous though they are, kind of screwed up this process, because in an effort to respond to an epidemic, and to an emergency, they have doled out millions or billions of dollars, without vetting the recipients at all.
Expecting people in early recovery who don’t qualify for the funding to simply turn it down is “too high a bar to expect from them,” Izsak said.
And he’s not alone in his frustration.
Tony Back, executive director of the Launching Pad Addiction Rehabilitation Society, said easy access to the cash has also taken a toll on many of the men who come to that South Surrey facility to learn how to lead clean and sober lives.
In the first week-and-a-half after the CERB funding became available, between eight and 10 clients at the 30-bed home left to return to their bad habits, Back said.
“We had close to a full house and when everything kicked in… (government) didn’t really have any checks and balances. They trusted the entire populace of Canada to be honest,” Back said.
”Unfortunately, the demographic of the vulnerable sector that we deal with… they don’t start out as the most honest people in the world, and when they’re offered $2,000 a month, they’re going to take the $2,000 whether they truly qualify for it or not.
“They take that money, they leave places like Cole’s and the Launching Pad, they hit the streets again and they go right back to using.”
Back said one man who applied for the CERB funding left the Launching Pad on a Monday, had $4,000 in his bank account the following day, and two days after that, “he was broke.”
“It all went to using drugs and alcohol,” Back said.
izsak and Back both said they applaud the governments’ efforts to help.
They also impress upon their clients the importance of being truthful when applying for the funding, as well as the ramifications of accepting it knowing they don’t qualify – but that effort has only worked to a degree.
“Expecting my clients – who are in early recovery – expecting them to be ethical and honest and decline this money is too tall an order,” izsak said.
“It’s too high a bar to expect from them.”
Back said similarly concerning is what’s going to happen when such funding runs out. With overdoses on the rise – a spike in overdose deaths was seen in B.C. once the pandemic started – and the opioid epidemic “greater than it was three months ago,” facilities that have survived the financial toll of the pandemic will be inundated by people needing help.
“There’s going to be a lack of facilities that can care for all the people that are being affected by the crisis that’s never gone away, and that’s the drugs and alcohol and especially the opiates,” he said.
“Unfortunately, there’s a demographic that are just taking advantage of the kindness,” he said. “It’s going to create a whole other problem on the back end.
“It’s a very slow train wreck.”