Kamsack outreach worker says people died ‘daily’ while authorities neglected to act

The manager of an outreach program that serves drug addicts in the Kamsack area, where a local doctor has been charged in connection with over-prescribing opioids, says it’s too little too late.

“I was glad to hear the news (about the unprofessional conduct charges) but I’m skeptical there will be any penalty,” Wanda Cote said. “The Sunrise Regional Health Authority, the College of Physicians and Surgeons and Health Canada all have known what the problem is here and they didn’t stop it. We’ve been losing people daily, for years, to overdoses and suicides and they did nothing.”

Cote manages the New Beginnings outreach program. Despite being a town of only 1,800 people, an average of 450 people a month use the program, which offers a safe needle exchange, hot lunches, counsellors and traditional healing. The vast majority of clients, she says, are opioid addicts. Most are members of Cote, Keeseekoose and The Key First Nations.

“We’ve seen a rise in HIV and Hep C from these drugs (being used intravenously), family breakdowns leading to more children in care, homelessness and hunger because people are using their money buying these drugs, more of our people in the justice system because they’re committing crimes on these drugs or for drugs.”

Dr. Murray Davies has been charged with two counts of unprofessional conduct under the Medical Profession Act. He is currently prohibited from prescribing opioids and benzodiazapines except in certain circumstances, such as working an emergency room shift.

Last week, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan leveled the charges against Davies, a family doctor who also ran the methadone program in Kamsack, Sask.

In April 2013, APTN Investigates reported, exclusively, several Indigenous patients claimed they were over-prescribed or unduly prescribed opioids and once hooked, shuttled into the same doctor’s methadone program to get off the drugs.

Some said they routinely failed drug screens but got their methadone anyway. All had concerns the methadone program wasn’t being properly run and complained they weren’t being weaned off the drug.

A year after that expose, Health Canada stripped Davies of his ability to run the methadone program at the urging of the College of Physicians and Surgeons.

At that time, a spokesman for the regulatory body would only say: “the college suggested he not have his authorization renewed.”

They wouldn’t detail why.

Davies was allowed to continue his family practice which includes the ability to prescribe opioids and other narcotics.

The college’s prescription review program monitors opioid prescriptions to ensure the highly-addictive medications aren’t being improperly prescribed or over-prescribed.

It confirmed to APTN Investigates back in 2013 that Davies was on their radar but would only say “we advise physicians if we have concerns with patient use … and if we have concerns about a physician’s prescribing we can ask for an explanation,” spokesman Brian Salte said then.

He added the program was designed to help doctors, not police them, and it’s “almost exclusively an educational process”.

But that changed last week when the college charged Davies.

“A disciplinary investigation is generally only brought if the college reaches the conclusion that educational interventions have failed or that there is some other reason that an educational approach is not appropriate,” Salte said in an email Thursday.

“I cannot discuss the investigation or the reasons that the college has taken its action. Those are issues which relate to the evidence that may be considered if there is a discipline hearing.”

Angeline Severight, director of the Saulteaux Healing and Wellness Centre on the Cote First Nation, said she is “glad” to hear the college stepped in but she’s “skeptical there will be any penalty” at the end of the process.

“Our First Nation communities are paying the price while others are cashing in on the demise of our people. It’s about time the College and Physicians and Surgeons stepped in,” Severight said. The Saulteaux Healing and Wellness Centre has long dealt with the impact of opiod abuse in the area.

Dr. Davies still has his family practice and works at the community’s emergency room.

If there is an admission by Davies, the penalty hearing will address the allegations which led to the college’s charge. If there is a contested hearing, the evidence will be introduced at that hearing.

On ratemds.com, a website where patients can rate doctors, many posts complain about Dr. Davies’ prescribing practices, while other herald him as a “wonderful” doctor who the town is “lucky to have.”

Kamsack is 80 km north of Yorkton near the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border.

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