News / Vancouver

'They took our money from us': methadone patients laud B.C. settlement

B.C. to repay $5.5M 'unjust' fees for drug maintenance treatment after lawsuit.

Laura Shaver, president of the B.C. Association of People on Methadone (BCAPOM), stands in the group's Downtown Eastside Vancouver offices they share with the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users on Monday, Nov. 27, 2017.

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Laura Shaver, president of the B.C. Association of People on Methadone (BCAPOM), stands in the group's Downtown Eastside Vancouver offices they share with the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users on Monday, Nov. 27, 2017.

"They were taking food out of our mouths," recalled Laura Shaver in an interview. "It was unjust."

Now, the 39-year-old is celebrating — alongside nearly 12,000 fellow British Columbians prescribed the opioid substitution drug methadone — after her two-year court battle ended with the province agreeing to pay them all back millions deducted from their welfare cheques over nearly a decade.

The settlement amounts to $5.5 million, including years of racked up interest.

"It's a lot of money being given out, especialy with the interest," Shaver, the president of the B.C. Association of People on Methadone, told Metro on Monday. "But they're actually just paying back money they took from us to eat. They took it from our food supplements."

Shaver — a recovering heroin addict who has relied on methadone for 19 years, she said — was the plaintiff in the case brought by lawyer Jason Gratl, and will return in court Friday to present last week's settlement to a judge.

The case revolved around an $18.34 administration fee charged by private clinics offering the government-funded medication.

Although Pharmacare covered the medicine's costs for the lowest-income patients, B.C. clawed back part of their welfare or disability cheques in addition. For many, it amounted hundreds of dollars a year for many low-income people.

David P. Ball/Metro

"They said it was for administration," she said. "Even though that amount doesn't sound like much, when you only get $180 to begin with for social assistance, that's a lot."

The lawsuit sought reimbursement for the payments between November 2009 and July 2016, when the fees were suspended for patients.

"It's sad it took us four years to get to the bottom of this and have the government realize its injustice," she said, adding that how the money will be distributed has yet to be "wired down" when it goes before a judge.

"We'd like them to come in monthly instalments, of at least $150," she said.

Methadone is more than simply a substitute for heroin, she explained — for every patients, it means something different things in their lives.

"It helps people have a better quality of life," she said. "It helps people not to have to be out fighting for drugs everyday. It means I don't have to be out on street hustling or in jail, because I'm not going through withdrawal."

The victory, she added, has offered many drug users and people treating substance use issues Canada-wide hope that they can make their voices heard — and have their rights respected.

It's not the only methadone court battle in B.C. Last year, prisoners in the province won their own lawsuit for the substitution treatment behind bars.

"Never think that because you're a drug consumer that you don't deserve human treatment," she quipped. "If we try, we can succeed."

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