Parent's heartbreaking tale of son's addiction just one example of current drug crisis

Finding help for addicts

As I reflect on the countless conversations I've had with parents across British Columbia, one thing has become painfully clear—families are at their breaking point, forced into impossible decisions by a crisis that seems to grow more dire by the day.

Nearly a year ago, I met Stacy (I have changed her name to protect her son’s identity), a mother whose world was turned upside down by her son's struggle with addiction. She came to me not just as a legislator but as a fellow parent, seeking to make sense of a system that seemed indifferent to her despair.

She booked an appointment with me to discuss B.C.’s drug policy. When I walked into the boardroom, she had pictures spread out in front of my chair. I sat down and she started to speak.

“This is my son when he was 11. When he was 12 and 13—the year he first tried marijuana," she said.

“Then 14, 15—the year I was told that the only way to get him treatment for his addictions and help was to turn him over to MCFD (the Ministry of Children and Family Development). He was committed but KGH released him immediately, saying they didn’t have a bed for him.

“Here he is at 16, and here is where he was at 17, when he was kicked out of the group home. This is how I found him when I came to get him.”

Three photos were haunting. I saw a boy becoming a shell of a teenager, completely obliterated by his addiction. But I looked closer. What was that next to him in the photo of him at 17? No, it couldn’t be. But it was— a tent and a sleeping bag.

This mom told me the story of her son’s addiction and showed me the seven prescriptions he has filled every week—for free. Dilaudid, gabapentin and hydromorphone to name three.

She looked at me with disgust and showed me her son today, at 18.

“This, this is what your province’s drug policies have done to my son,” she said. “I don’t know if he will make it to 19.”

My heart broke looking at the last picture she showed me. He was a shell. Hallow. Empty. Without hope.

From his first experimentation to the shocking reality of his life at 18, homeless and battling severe addiction, Stacy's story was a poignant reminder of the stakes we're dealing with.

It's a narrative far too many British Columbian families can relate to, as they watch their loved ones slip away, while effective help remains frustratingly out of reach. The choice some families face, between mortgaging their homes or leaving their children without the care they desperately need, is a decision no one should ever have to make.

It's a stark reflection of a system that has left too many behind, despite the soaring number of overdose deaths—a record high last year—that underscores the escalating scale of this tragedy.

Under the current NDP administration, we've seen policies that have failed to address the root causes of addiction and provide the comprehensive support needed. The decriminalization efforts, for instance, have sparked debate and concern over their impact on public safety and the well-being of those they're meant to help.

It's become increasingly clear a new approach is needed—one that prioritizes recovery and ensures treatment is accessible to everyone, regardless of their financial situation. It’s time to restore hope because better is possible.

BC United launched our mental health and addictions policy over a year ago, a recovery-oriented system of care, one that respects the dignity of every British Columbian and offers real hope for the future. This isn't just about policies or politics, it's about people. It's about rebuilding lives, restoring families, and reclaiming the promise of a community that looks after its own. The heartbreak must end.

Together, we can turn the tide on addiction in British Columbia, but it requires us all to stand united in our resolve to make a difference. Let's make that commitment today, for Stacy, for her son and for every family fighting to find a way out of the darkness.

My question to you is this:

Do you think that a treatment and recovery system is better than what we have today?

I love hearing from you and read every email. Please email me at [email protected] or call the office at 250-712-3620.

Renee Merrifield is the B.C. United MLA for Kelowna-Mission.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


Kelowna at a 'critical juncture' says MLA

Downtown problems

This last two weeks at home have been amazing.

I love hiking up in Mission Ridge Park, going for coffee in the SOPA area (in South Pandosy), enjoying a meal from the newly reopened Olympia Taverna (in Rutland), and walking around downtown Kelowna.

We have such an amazing city.

However, amidst this joy, a dark shadow looms. Distressing headlines have surfaced recently, painting a grim picture. Vandals struck the Von Schweets Treat Shop (on Bernard Avenue downtown) just weeks after its grand re-opening following a closure of 65 days.

Similarly, Bia Boro (on the same street) fell victim to another robbery, with shattered glass and stolen goods marking the aftermath. Additionally, alarming images of fires set ablaze near residential buildings have surfaced, along with reports of a man involved in an attempted stabbing at a business on Banks Road being caught and subsequently released.

The question echoes through our streets—what is happening to our once vibrant urban spaces?

The essence of our city cores, once bustling with life and offering a safe haven for families and visitors, now stands at a critical juncture. The visible surge in drug use and petty crime, following the path of (drug) decriminalization, not only jeopardizes public safety but also poses a significant threat to our local businesses.

Many shop owners, who have poured their hearts and souls into their establishments, now face the heartbreaking decision to close their doors, citing the changing environment as a direct impact on their customer foot traffic and overall sense of security.

The narrative of Kelowna, as it stands, is one of caution. The sight of closed shopfronts and the palpable tension in the air serve as a stark reminder of the consequences of policy decisions that do not fully account for their wide-ranging impacts.

It is imperative we take a step back and consider the holistic wellbeing of our community, ensuring that efforts to support those battling addiction are balanced with measures that safeguard public safety and the economic vitality of our downtown area.

The revolving door of the criminal justice system spins ever faster, leaving us bewildered. Stores are fortifying their security measures, installing cameras, bars, and increasing the presence of guards. Many no longer keep their doors unlocked during business hours, a testament to the brazenness of criminals.

Assaults persist, driving away employees who no longer feel safe working in our urban centres. These audacious crimes have ignited debates about the delicate balance between compassion and accountability.

While there's consensus on the need for a compassionate approach to substance abuse and mental health, there's a growing demand for measures to ensure Kelowna remains a safe haven for all. That necessitates enhanced policing, better coordination of social services and community-led initiatives to address the root causes of addiction and homelessness, while simultaneously tackling criminal elements.

This is the reality we face after seven years under under David Eby's leadership—first as attorney general and now as premier.

The current administration's lack of solutions is glaring. Decriminalization, touted as an answer, has proven insufficient without substantial investments in mental health and addiction treatment facilities.

The challenges we face require a nuanced approach, one that recognizes the delicate balance between compassion for individuals struggling with substance abuse and the need for accountability to maintain order and safety.

We first need the government to show some humility and admit its approach is not working.

Reforms within the justice system are imperative, the current catch-and-release approach only exacerbates the situation. Criminals must face consequences for their actions.

Considering those concerns, we need a concerted effort among policymakers, law enforcement, social services and the business community to forge a path forward.

That includes the immediate enhancement of police presence to deter criminal activity, a change to the justice system so criminals suffer consequences for their choices, the expansion of mental health and addiction treatment services and the implementation of community-led initiatives aimed at revitalizing our urban areas.

This fall we go to the polls. BC United has laid out its plan for tackling these issues. We will not accept this new reality because we know better is possible.

My question to you is this:

Do you feel safe in our urban areas? Why or why not?

I love hearing from you and read every email. Please email me at [email protected] or call the office at 250-712-3620.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Alarming decline in hospital care in B.C. says MLA

'Hallway healthcare'

Last week, it was reported an 87-year-old senior spent nine days in the hallway at Victoria General Hospital.

Anyone who has spent any time in a hospital will know the hallways are always busy. The lights are always on and it is not somewhere to recover or rest.

This man was shuffled up and down the hallway until he ended up being placed right by the nurses station. He chose to go public because he doesn’t think anyone should have to endure what he went through.

This “hallway healthcare” has become the new normal in the last seven years, with hallway beds receiving permanent hospital placements as part of the daily bed count. Nursing staff and physicians have asked that the practice be discontinued, but now these beds have been added to the hospitals numbers as if space has been created.

Imagine seeking help in a time of need, only to find your hospital bed is a gurney in a hallway. That is the harsh reality for too many in B.C., where the concept of privacy and comfort in healthcare has slipped through the cracks.

Unfortunately, these stories are not unique, after seven years of the current government and Health Minister Adrian Dix. My office frequently hears from Kelowna residents with heartbreaking stories of their experiences with our once envied healthcare system.

Receiving care in hallways, the daily exhaustion of nursing staff without enough colleagues to deliver the care they know patients need, and the waiting that leads to dying prematurely.

This is a crisis that has been quietly festering—a healthcare system that's seen better days, notably fraying under seven years of NDP governance. This isn't just about numbers on a chart or policy debates in the halls of power. It's about real-life consequences for people who call BC home.

Yes, the system is struggling across the country, but unfortunately, B.C. is at the bottom of the results list, delivering the worst care in Canada.

This is no fault of the amazing professionals who show up every day to do their best work. There are just not enough of them, and not enough capacity in the system to have them deliver the tests or treatment necessary for patients to recover.

While the health minister has extolled the high numbers of nursing staff being added to the system, they are not apparent on the front lines. At the heart of any healthcare system are its people. Yet, in our province, the heartbeat is weak with the alarming shortage of nurses. This crisis stretches beyond numbers— it's about the human toll—overworked staff, compromised care and a profession under immense stress. The ripple effects are profound, impacting patient experiences and outcomes.

Contract, non-permanent travel nurses are being used in greater numbers, with the costs two to three times the cost to the system.

Meanwhile, the vaccine mandate continues unnecessarily, with B.C. the last jurisdiction in North America to maintain it. With more 5,000 nursing vacancies in B.C., all of the healthcare workers fired during the pandemic should be hired back immediately.

And what is the result of a lack of capacity and a lack of nurses? Waiting.

Waiting is the new normal in B.C.’s healthcare (system), from elective surgeries to critical treatments. Delays can be more than just inconvenient, they can alter lives—sometimes irreversibly.

The bottleneck in treatment capacity speaks to a deeper issue of foresight and investment—or the lack thereof. Expanding our capacity to care is not just a necessity, it's an obligation we owe to every resident.

These aren't mere statistics, they're missed dinners, empty chairs and unfinished stories.

The most disturbing part of this analysis is the government believes everything is OK and they are doing a good job at answering the needs of patients in B.C.

We need government to see the desperation of the system, and acknowledge the catastrophic results.

British Columbians will go to the polls this year to elect a new provincial government. I can assure you that B.C> United Leader) Kevin Falcon and BC United will not let the status quo stand when it comes to delivering health care to the people of BC.

I have a couple of questions for you this week:

What has been your experience with our healthcare system and if you were in charge, what would you change?

I love hearing from you and read every email. Please email me at [email protected] or call my office at 250-712-3620.

Renee Merrifield is the BC United MLA for Kelowna-Mission.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


Now's not the time for a B.C. carbon tax hike says MLA

Carbon tax hike will hurt

As we step into April, residents of Kelowna might be bracing themselves for the typical lighthearted pranks and jokes that come with April Fool's Day.

Unfortunately with B.C.’s carbon tax going up by 23% on April 1, there won’t be much to joke about.

Some quick background. The B.C. carbon tax applies to fossil fuels like gasoline, diesel and natural gas, which are integral to our daily lives, not only for personal transportation but also for heating our homes and powering our industries. The former B.C. Liberal government, under Premier Christy Clark, held the then- revenue neutral tax at $30 a ton until 2017.

In 2017, the NDP government started to increase the tax and rather than keep it revenue neutral and made it a tax that went into general revenue. In 2021, then premier John Horgan, agreed to sign onto the federal plan to raise the carbon tax to $170 per metric tonne by 2030. So every year, on April 1, the carbon tax goes up in B.C.

This year the carbon tax will rise from $65 a tonne to $80 a tonne, rising to nearly 18 cents per litre of gasoline, to 21 cents per litre of diesel and to 15 cents per cubic metre of natural gas.

The consequence is an unavoidable uptick that affects virtually everything, from the groceries we buy to the services we depend on.

So, while 9,097 people went to the Central Okanagan Food Bank in January—a record—and 9,000 went in February, the premier sees fit to pile on another tax increase (in April).

The sting of the carbon tax hike is felt most acutely by those who have no real alternatives. Consider the families and individuals in Kelowna who rely on natural gas for heating. The alternatives—such as electricity or renewable sources—are not always viable due to infrastructure limits or the significant upfront costs associated with making the switch. Similarly, for many, driving isn't a choice but a necessity, dictated by the lack of public transportation.

The trucking industry exemplifies the broader impact of the carbon tax increase. Trucks are the lifelines of our economy, responsible for moving goods from manufacturers to stores and ultimately to consumers. As the carbon tax rises, so does the cost of trucking.

This tax increase won’t just affect trucking companies, it cascades down to the price of every product transported by those trucks—from fresh produce to household goods, everything becomes more expensive.

The irony is the trucking industry, critical as it is, has few feasible alternatives to diesel-powered vehicles at the moment. The technology for electric or hydrogen trucks, although promising, is not yet at a stage where it can replace diesel engines across the board.

The issue with the carbon tax is it isn’t about the goal of reducing carbon emissions, it is now a tax that goes directly into general revenue. There are other ways to reduce carbon emissions that don’t involve a regressive punishing tax increases on the general population.

The government will argue it offers the Climate Action Tax Credit to offset the cost of the carbon tax. Not only is the tax credit woefully inadequate to cover the true costs of the carbon tax, it doesn’t apply to many families because of income eligibility.

Under the NDP, B.C. pays the highest net carbon and fuel taxes in Canada, west of Quebec.

There is no tax credit offered to small and medium businesses in BC.

Right now, half of Kelowna’s residents are only $200 away from insolvency, 50% of our restaurants aren’t profitable, our farmers aren’t able to make money and people are no longer able to make ends meet.

It is the worst time for a tax hike, especially one that affects the price of everything.

Last week, BC United Leader Kevin Falcon joined calls from seven other premiers to stop the planned April 1 (federal) carbon tax hike and provide relief to Canadians who are financially struggling.

B.C. Premier David Eby’s response to those requests was to scoff and scorn.

It's time for a more balanced approach that safeguards both our environment and our economy.

My question to you is this:

How will the carbon tax increase affect you?

I love hearing from you and read every email you send. Please email me at [email protected] or call the office at 250-712-3620.

Renee Merrifield is the BC United MLA for Kelowna-Mission.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Renee Merrifield is the BC United MLA for Kelowna - Mission and the Opposition critic for Environment and Climate Change, as well as Gender, Equity and Inclusion.  She currently serves on the Select Standing Committee for Finance as well.

A long-time resident of Kelowna, Renee started, and continues to lead, many businesses from construction and development to technology. Renee is a compassionate individual who cares about others in the community, believes in giving back and helping those in need through service.

She values your feedback and conversation, and can be reached at [email protected] or 250.712.3620

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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