Legal action seeks to end welfare deductions for B.C. methadone patients

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      On February 2, lawyer Jason Gratl took the first step in filing for an injunction that could save a select group of methadone patients $20 a month.

      He conceded that to most people, that won’t sound like a lot of money. But it is for this group.

      "There is an economist principle called the law of diminishing marginal returns, where the wealthier you are, the less the extra dollar means to you," he said. "When you stand as low down the financial ladder as persons who are receiving social assistance and are on methadone, the marginal value of every dollar is substantial indeed.”

      Gratl explained that the case concerns people who are both enrolled in the province’s methadone-maintenance program (MMP) and receive social assistance under the B.C. Employment and Assistance Act. He estimated they number between 4,000 and 8,000.

      According to a statement of claim filed last November, the Ministry of Social Development has been deducting $18.34 from the welfare cheques of these individuals. Gratl told the Straight he wants an injunction to end that practice while the matter—a potential class action—slowly makes its way through the courts.

      “The goal of the injunction is to force the province to stop deducting approximately $20 from the social service benefits of persons who are in the methadone maintenance program on a monthly basis," Gratl said.

      None of the allegations have been proven in court, and the province has yet to file a statement of defence. The ministry declined a request for an interview.

      Gratl said he expects a court to hear his application for an injunction within three months and for a decision to be reached one month after that.

      According to a May 2014 B.C. government report, in 2012-13 there were 14,833 patients enrolled in the province’s methadone-maintenance treatment program.

      That document states that to keep one patient in opiate substitution therapy, it costs B.C. approximately $3,268 per year.

      If the government were to stop its monthly deductions from cheques like Shaver’s, that number would grow to approximately $3,488 per year.

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