Drugs and Crime in the City: What is to Blame for the Link Between the Cycle?

How can we encourage addicts to seek help before they commit crimes fro drug money? Are drugs even to blame for crime as much as we think?

“You don’t wake up one morning and decide to be a drug addict … The question, of course, could be asked: Why did you ever try narcotics? Why did you continue using it long enough to become an addict? You become a narcotics addict because you do not have strong motivations in the other direction … I ended up hooked. If you have never been addicted, you can have no clear idea what it means to need junk with the addict’s special need.” – Prologue from Junky by William S. Burroughs.

There’s a road from recreation to addiction for everything from alcohol and cigarettes to oxycodone and coke. You hear about an armed robbery at a convenience store, a home invasion, a taxi driver held up for twenties at 3am – and people say, “What is the city coming to a’tall?” And speculation abounds.

Much of it centres on one nasty little word that can take lives, hurt beyond measure, and give a high of escapism and self-medication even the strongest 151 proof can’t offer: drugs.

Taxi broker Albert Newell is blunt in his observation of robberies in St. John’s. “It’s the hard drugs out there, the crack cocaine, the cocaine, the ‘ice,’ I mean, and everything else that goes with it. What’s basically happening is at 3 o’clock in the morning, is if they don’t have their fix, ‘let’s do a convenience store, let’s do a taxi driver.’”

26-year-old Christopher Snow was blunt when he gave a criminal’s side of that narrative in July. Snow was sentenced to eight years in prison for more than 30 offences – including forcible confinement and assault with a weapon – for home invasions last September. Twice, Snow forced people from their homes late at night to take cash out of an ATM.

Apologizing to his victims in court, Snow said he was on drugs at the time and blamed that, saying he got into drugs after his dad was diagnosed with ALS. He had been in the methadone program at a point but got back on “hard drugs,” and he’s been in rehab at the Pen since his arrest, late last September.

One of his victims forgave him. Despite telling the court how scared her family was after the incident, sleeping in a room together for a month afterwards, she said she hoped the man could overcome his drug addiction. Compassion. Yet the link between drugs and crime isn’t black and white.

Statistics Canada says the connection between drugs and crime is well established: “not only are many crimes committed by those who are under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, but crime, particularly property-related crime, is often committed to obtain money to purchase drugs.”

But a John Howard Society research paper (from this province) contradicts this: “Many of our clients had no apparent substance abuse problem; many clients had a court order to attend substance abuse treatment because they told a judge that they committed their crime(s) because of using drugs or alcohol in an attempt to receive a lighter sentence – often at the advice of defense lawyers.”

Either way, drug addiction is a thing people need help with if they’re willing to take it. And it turns out that “willing” may be where the problem lies.

Addictions treatment options available aren’t that terrible – from the province’s health authorities, non-profit organizations, and private options too. According to Eastern Health, two out of three of their addictions treatment centres in St. John’s don’t have a wait time right now.

Those are the day treatment Rowan Centre for 12-18 year olds that has four clinicians, and the Recovery Centre for 16+ that has 19 beds for “inpatient withdrawal management.” But there’s a four-month waitlist for the Opioid Treatment Centre – an outpatient program for adults that offers methadone treatment, which is recommended to tackle withdrawal and straighten people out.

Trouble is, people need to be up for getting and staying in treatment – and with recognizing they need help. That’s hard. Maybe the focus should be on preventing people from getting to the addict stage, with safe spaces and support all the time.

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