A tenant asks me to break a hundred-dollar bill for him. “Where did you get that?” I wonder out loud. He’s a good panhandler, so I was expecting another fantastic story of Vancouverite generosity, but that’s not what I got.
He tells me that the pharmacies around the DTES have been tasked with supplying Heroin addicts like him with Methadone. The government pays the pharmacy $3,000 per month per person. This incentivizes the pharmacies to such an extent that they pay their clients 100-dollar cash kickbacks for loyalty. My friend smiles. He has many toothless gaps in his grin. He looks like he could have been a hockey player if his life of addiction hadn’t made him so thin. “I get my drugs and some extra money thrown in.”
What? Really? A quizzical look forms on my face. “Yeah, man, the government pays the pharmacy, and the pharmacy pays me cash to take the Methadone.” As the conversation continues, I learn that local addicts are gaming the system, playing the pharmacies off one another to get the highest kickback.
There is absolutely zero plan to help Methadone addicts get off of Methadone so that they can live freely. The tenant in my building has to take Methadone every day of his life. He has been told that Methadone is in the marrow of his bones, and if he ever stops taking it, he will die. Is that true? My tenant believes it’s true, so it is to him. I asked him about the possibility of going on a holiday away from the DTES and his Methadone supply. He laughs. “There’s no chance of that!” a bitter smile forming on his lips. “So if someone bought you a ticket for a free getaway in Hawaii, you wouldn’t be able to go?” He shakes his head in agreement. “No chance of that. I would die if I went.”
“You’re in Methadone prison!” I exclaim.
Just before he leaves with five fresh twenties in his pocket, he turns to me and says, “You know, if they tried to ween me off of Methadone not too long after they got me on it, maybe I could have kicked the habit and been free, but not now, not after seven years!”
So that’s it, then? The pharmacies capitalize on a lucrative government-sponsored drug program which guarantee’s that methadone addicts not only remain addicted but also become trapped in an 8-block by 8-block prison for the rest of their natural lives. Does anyone else have concerns about this plan? Should I be thankful that we are not having to Narcan my friend back to life a couple of times a week because of Fentanyl overdoses? Is Methadone prison a victory? If it is one, it feels hollow.