Edmonton’s top cop told a city council committee Wednesday that government shouldn’t be “throwing money” at a meth-specific strategy but rather there needs to be a collaborative, holistic look across agencies to address social issues as a whole.
“I’ll tell you right now that a policing-alone plan in relation to meth is not going to work,” police chief Dale McFee told the community and public services committee.
“We are focussed on the law enforcement public health response, which is basically targeting supply and demand. We need to look at also helping users break free of the cycle.”
In his presentation, McFee said the drug has a strong presence across the western provinces. In Calgary, meth counts for one-third of all drug charges and in Saskatoon, overdose incidents have tripled since 2018.
“We’ve been looking at this significantly since 2015, our seizures have gone up significantly, we’ve seized $11.2 million worth of meth,” McFee told the committee.
He said there’s an average of 800 liquor store thefts per month and there are indications meth is connected to that, while 60 per cent of drug violations in the city to date were meth-related.
McFee also showed Statistics Canada data gathered between March 2018 and February 2019 that looked at meth content in the wastewater of Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Edmonton. Edmonton had the highest content of meth in its wastewater at 500 grams per million people per week.
“I think what’s really important here is we have to be very, very conscious and we have to make very, very good decisions that we don’t chase another drug,” McFee said, using fentanyl and marijuana as examples.
“The thing to remember here is the people that use fentanyl, use meth, use marijuana and will use the next drug.”
He said there needs to be work with health partners to focus on pathways that address mental health, chronic pain, high-risk vulnerable lifestyles and other miscellaneous areas.
“Every time we go for separate strategies, we continue to forget most of these strategies are for all the same people, it’s our vulnerable population,” McFee said.
“We tend to have a poverty strategy, housing strategy, homeless strategy, mental health strategy, addiction strategy … but our vulnerable population are the ones with the deepest roots in all of these strategies.”
Mark Snaterse, executive director for addiction and mental health with Alberta Health Services, was also on hand at the meeting and said emergency departments are seeing about 400 presentations of methamphetamine intoxication per month.
“When you think back about four or five years ago, it was maybe one or two a day,” Snaterse said.
“Certainly, we’re seeing the same increase and I would agree the strategy has to be very multi-factorial and it needs to be collaborative. Collaborations between health, police, intercity agencies and the municipality and I think it does have to be a very holistic approach of how to tackle this.”
While there was no specific action taken by councillors during the meeting, talks will continue between police, AHS and the city.