During the past six months, the number of pharmacies in the City of Langley has reportedly climbed from three to 12, with another one on the way.
In a city of four-square miles, the proliferation of drug stores in the downtown core is raising alarm bells, with some speculating that many are methadone maintenance clinics, calling themselves pharmacies.
At their July 7 meeting, Langley City council members, including Teri James, who is also the executive director of the Downtown Langley Business Association, received a letter from DLBA members, signed by the association’s chairperson, Sonya Perkins, asking that council consider regulating pharmacies.
The letter states that many downtown business owners have witnessed the dispensing of methadone in several of these new pharmacies and most believe that is why so many have come to the City.
They feel it’s a trend that isn’t going to stop.
Dispensing methadone can be a lucrative business for pharmacies. A methadone prescription is given to heroin addicts who replace that drug with liquid methadone.
Most people using methadone take it daily, and for each time they take it the pharmacy can make around $20 per methadone user.
From the government, through PharmaCare, a pharmacy recieves a dispensing fee plus a fee for watching the person ingest it.
According to a 2011-12 report from the Provincial Health Officer, the number of pharmacies dispensing methadone has more than doubled in B.C. since 2001-02 — when the government made changes to PharmaCare coverage of methadone.
In their letter, the DLBA expresses fears that Langley City will become a hub for methadone dispensing in the Lower Mainland.
They recognize the need for methadone treatment as a vital service in the community, but believe there are already more than enough in place to serve the City’s needs, the letter reads.
James made a motion to draft appropriate zoning bylaw/business licences to regulate or restrict pharmacies in the City.
The DLBA said with so many methadone clinics it is likely the City will continue to see an increase in loitering, drug use as well as a growing homeless population and illegal drug activity.
The City just approved spending almost $90,000 to beef up security at Innes Corners plaza because the amount of drug dealing and buying has grown out of control. James told council she was recently approached to buy drugs in the plaza in the middle of the day.
“I will support the motion, but I disagree with the numbers,” said City councillor Rosemary Wallace at the meeting.
“It bothers me that we have to get to this place (where we are) making this motion.”
Rather than simply try to push people out of the City, she said, government should be trying to fix the root problem.
“This is a provincial issue. We need prevention. Until we find a way to help people, we’re not going to get anywhere.”
The Downtown Surrey BIA has recently been experiencing the same sharp increase in these types of pharmacies popping up in their downtown core.
They are also currently working with their mayor and council to regulate pharmacies. In downtown Whalley there are around 20 pharmacies, many of those dispensing methadone.
Langley RCMP Const. Craig van Herk said he remembers working in Surrey when the number of pharmacies in Whalley climbed from two to 12. Along with the increase in pharmacies, came an increase in the number of pawn shops, he said.
In a later interview, acting mayor Ted Schaffer said he didn’t really notice how many pharmacies had popped up in the City until this was brought to his attention.
“As a council we are looking to get more information, to see what the issues are, to speak further with the DLBA and the B.C. College of Pharmacies,” said Schaffer.
“Not only as a council, but as a community, you want to make sure there is an issue. Is there more than there should be? What is the right number?”
As acting mayor he said he hasn’t had a single call or comment about the growing number of pharmacies, but he gets plenty of comments and concerns from the public about crime.
“Crime is high on people’s mind, and as a council we are trying hard to make sure this is a safe place for people to live and move to,” said Schaffer.
To that end, the City has hired a bylaw officer to work Saturday nights in the downtown core and two retired RCMP officers are contracted to work when needed in the downtown area, in the evenings.
With council meetings adjourning for the summer on July 21, the issues of pharmacies and zoning won’t be addressed until at least September, said Schaffer.