Taxpayer-funded program puts drug addicts at risk by giving them cash, Truro grandmother says

Harry Sullivan
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‘It's unfortunate it came to this and we certainly did not intend to cause anyone any harm, that's for sure'

TRURO - Giving drug addicts cash to participate in an information study is like letting children play with fire, says a Truro woman, regarding a situation her grandson was recently involved in.

A Truro grandmother, who doesn't want to be identified, is outraged by a Photovoice program offered through the Northern Aids Connection Society (NACS) in which cash is given to drug addicts.

"My beef is, $200 cash is enough to buy enough oxycontin or cocaine to OD on," said the woman, who asked that her name not to published to protect the identity of her grandson.

"I'm outraged. I'm truly outraged. I'm too emotionally attached to this one, otherwise I'd be firing off letters to my MP saying, ‘what kind of grant program is this that contributes to drug use?'" the woman said.

Her outrage centres on a Photovoice program offered through the Northern Aids Connection Society (NACS) in Truro that provides $200 cash to drug addicts who agree to tell their life story to determine how they ended up on injection drugs.

The woman's 19-year-old grandson, whom she has cared for since his mother died when he was two, recently participated in the study. After receiving the cash, she said, her grandson then took the money to buy drugs and disappeared for two days.

Her grandson is registered at the local mental health drug addiction clinic, the woman said, is under the care of both a psychiatrist and a psychologist and is "considered at risk."

"I think that is real negligence," she said, of the NACS involvement. "To me, if (he) had OD'ed that night, they are culpable," especially given her grandson's past.

In the last year and a half, she said, he has been transported by ambulance to the hospital on three separate occasions after overdosing on drugs.

The woman said she decided to go public with her story after speaking with NACS founder/supervisor Al McNutt and failing to receive a satisfactory response.

"I told him (McNutt) that I was just amazed that he is dealing with addicts and he's giving them cash. And what kind of a program could this possibly be... ?

"It's like giving a child matches to play with or Drano to drink. It's just so very, very wrong. And it's not just my grandson."

NACS also is associated with the Mainline Needle Exchange program, which provides new needles for drug addicts as way to prevent them from reusing or sharing needles in an effort to help prevent the spread of infections and disease.

The woman said she supports that aspect of what NACS is doing and she would be less critical of the Photovoice initiative (which uses abstract photos to accompany each individual's story) if the subjects were rewarded in some way other than with straight up cash.

"I think the majority of what they do is wonderful. It keeps the kids from infecting themselves," she said. "How do you protect him from a hand of cash of $200? To me it would make far more sense if it was put towards rent, to pay a bill, but to give an addict $200 ... what are they thinking?"

The woman said her grandson has "already sold everything of value that we have" and she has deadbolts on her closet to keep him out of her prescription drugs.

McNutt told the Truro Daily News the program is intended to provide information to be shared with mental health and addictions services programs to aid in the understanding of the behaviour of drug addicts, why they are involved in injection drug use to start with as well as the underlying reasons of why they are doing it.

"I can understand this individual's concern but from my perspective it is totally taken out of context," he said, of the grandmother.

Funding for the program is provided through mental health and addictions services although McNutt declined to say how much the society receives. But he said the intent of NACS various programs is to try to find ways to help drug addicts through education efforts and is not intended to promote drug use.

"They had lives and they were children at one time and when you hear the stories you'd almost think, that ‘my God, that went on in Truro?' Or that particular person was raised in this town? And these things happened to them at that early age? No darn wonder they're actually involved in any kind of activity to help them relieve themselves of some of that anguish they're feeling or the anxiety they're feeling," McNutt said.

"I don't support drug use nor have I ever supported drug use. And I have never ever promoted it, that's for sure. But the whole thing is we're trying to look at individuals and trying to get as deep into their minds as possible to find out what is really driving this. Where is it coming from?"

Injection drug use is a serious issue throughout northern Nova Scotia, McNutt said, to which enough attention is not being paid. And while he and his staff will be re-evaluating the program to see if there is a better way to acquire the information they are seeking, NACS cannot tell the individuals how to spend the money they receive and providing gift cards is not the answer because those can also be sold for cash.

"We will review everything. We've already had that discussion here in the office since the lady came in," he said.

"It's unfortunate it came to this and we certainly did not intend to cause anyone any harm, that's for sure. But I'm not about to sort of change what we do other than possibly change the honourarium. But if we don't offer an honourarium I'm not going to get those stories. That's for sure."

hsullivan@trurodaily.com

Twitter: @tdnharry

Organizations: Northern Aids Connection Society, Truro Daily News

Geographic location: Truro, Northern Nova Scotia

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Recent comments

  • James McBernie
    August 16, 2014 - 22:00

    And this is the orginzation that we were asked to support in yesterday's paper? Not anymore!!!!

  • D. Chapman
    August 15, 2014 - 19:52

    I agree 110% with this lady. This is outrageous!! Who could have possibly came up with this idea? There has been hundreds if not thousands of stories and studies of why people turn to drugs. It seems Mr. McNutt is looking for ways to throw away hard earned taxpayers money. Why would you not put that money into supporting drug rehab centres and hire more professional staff to work with drug addicts, to help them get off drugs and teach them how to live drug free, to start a new life? Build more places for these people to stay and get the help and education they need from qualified staff. Does that make sense? Would you rather not try to help drug abusers then to give them cash money to buy more drugs? And I'm sure there will be more overdoses because of this insane program! I truly have heartfelt compassion for all drug addicts and their stories, but handing them $200.00 is definitely not the answer for finding out why they turned to drugs in the first place. I sincerely hope that NACS will rethink what they are doing and the serious consequences that could arise from this ridiculous program. By all means, please, help drug addicts, but not at the risk of their own lives! And to this grandmother, you have my deepest sympathy for what you and your grandson are going through.