Six years ago Stetson was a high functioning Vancouver businessman and father with a daily cocaine habit, regularly scoring on Vancouver’s skid row in the Downtown Eastside.
“Many professionals get an easy hit, blocks from their downtown offices, while funnelling thousands of dollars into Main and Hastings and fuelling the drug economy,” he says.
The area is notorious for its homelessness, crime and open drug use, not the type of place one would expect to find white collar workers.
Stetson, a pseudonym, was typical of the one percent of Canadian professionals including lawyers, businessmen and women and doctors who are addicted to street drugs such as cocaine and crack, a solid smokable form of cocaine, says Dr Ray Baker.
A Vancouver-based addiction medicine expert and workplace consultant, Baker says these high functioning drug addicts easily slip under the radar because they don’t fit the stereotype: “It’s not necessarily what you see in the Downtown Eastside.”
White collar addicts are typically racked with guilt, shame, fear, depression and emotional volatility. “They develop this Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde secret life so to colleagues they appear aloof and distant but they look competent, even dedicated, a very very hard worker.” That is, “until they can no longer keep four balls in the air at the same time,” says Baker.
Last year 10 of the 375 lawyers who sought help from Vancouver’s Lawyers Assistance Program (LAP) were addicted to street drugs. Executive director Derek LaCroix says the LAP is “pretty much accepted in the profession as the place to go for addiction”, as well as alcoholism. The LAP also deals with mood disorders: “If you have someone with problems with addictions, they have problems with a lot of things.”
LaCroix explains that the initial stage of recovery is most difficult for lawyers because they tend to be wrapped up in their professional image. “If they show weakness, they’ll be destroyed. Once they do get help, the recovery rate is good. Lawyers are smart and clever and good at following directions.”
Both Edgewood treatment centre on Vancouver Island and The Orchard on Bowen Island, just off West Vancouver, have lawyers and doctors and other white collar professionals as patients. The rates for those centres and Toronto area facilities, Homewood and Bellwood, which have similar clientele, range from about $300 to $480 a day. Typical stays are 28 or 42 days. Homewood is known for treating doctors from across Canada.
Towards the higher end of that scale is The Orchard. Executive director Lorinda Strang says, “Our clients can be West Vancouver housewives or business people who go to the Downtown Eastside to score crack.”
Strang says the drug scene at Main and Hastings is a big threat to downtown professionals who are trying to stay clean. The glossy office towers are mere blocks away from where addicts openly score and shoot up. “The drugs are so available on the Downtown Eastside. It’s dangerous for the recovering addict.”
Stetson, who is himself recovering from his addiction, can attest to that. “Part of my denial was that if I had a dealer I was regularly buying it, whereas if I went to the Downtown Eastside and purchased it as needed, it didn’t seem as bad.”
Related: Stetson’s struggle with addiction
LaCroix, who is a lawyer and a trained counsellor, was himself once addicted to cocaine. He says his clients will often get another addict to score crack for them at Main and Hastings which has changed since he first got to know it.
“Drugs were more expensive. In those days they were not selling crack that I know of. We had to cook our own. I bought large amounts and free based.” Today, crack is readily available in smaller, cheaper amounts.
Dr Baker says $100 of crack, “can get a good little binge going”. Both coasts and Toronto are considered ports of entry where good quality drugs such as cocaine and heroin are readily available and are not overly expensive, he adds.