Anita Carroll had a rude awakening last Thursday morning. Just before 8 am, a call came from the RNC alerting her to a break in which had happened around 3am at her Duckworth street store Posie Row. 

A man was later arrested attempting to sell the 6 trays of silver jewelry he had grabbed after 45 minutes of rummaging had failed to find any cash on site. He smashed in the glass door, and came in and out of the storefront 3 times before finally leaving with his haul.

When she spoke with police, she was told that home break-ins were being reported at the rate of 5 or 6 a day currently in St. John’s, and business break-ins are at an all time high.

With very few exceptions, they added, the burglars were addicts looking for drug money. While the knee jerk “friggin’ skeets” reaction is understandable when a community member is robbed, it neither undoes the damage of the violation, or helps rehabilitate the perpetrator. Most likely it puts them, instead, in an overcrowded prison system where the damage to their psyche only deepens.

If health statistics of blood borne illness are any indicator, needle drugs gained traction in St. John’s sometime in the late 90s, with  17 new reported cases of Hep C in the province in 1996, ballooning to 84 by 2005. There are many theories on how and why addiction rates in NL have soared, and no matter which one you subscribe to, the damage is increasingly evident.

Cocaine and opiates are the main drugs in question, both illegal and in some areas difficult to access treatment for, if addicted.

Underlying any conversation about addiction is also a conversation about mental health, as people with mental health challenges are disproportionately represented in the population suffering from addictions.

Canadian physician and author Gabor Mate has said of this, “there is no war drugs, there is only a war on people, and the most vulnerable segments of our population are the ones we seem to be at war with”

Mate’s book, In The Realm Of Hungry Ghosts, recalls his time working in east Vancouver’s addict community , and he calls for a total reform on how we deal with addicts and addiction, asking first not “why the addiction,” but “why the pain,” and states that stigma and shame cannot co-exist with compassion. And compassion is the attitude we actually need for any real change.

As for Anita, she’s shaken but not stirred, saying she still feels safe in the neighbourhood and feels that with the current situation in the city, sadly, things like this are just par for the course. Lock up your valuables, call the police if you see a crime, and don’t leave cash in your store is her advice to people.

It’s great she’s so stoic about the whole event, but I can’t help but feel our city is passing on its inability to deal with mental health and addictions issues in a modern, caring, and effective way, and it’s great neighbours like Anita who are the ones paying the price.