Dr. Paul Hergott says the idea to form a committee to tackle addictions in the Sault stems from the stranger who was discovered sleeping in the bedroom of his Simpson Street residence one Friday afternoon in late August.
His wife, Lynne, found the person on the bed after dropping in to pick something up from the house. Dr. Hergott says his wife didn’t know if the person laid out on the bed was male or female, alive or dead.
The Sault physician says police attended the Hergott residence, eventually taking the young woman out of the home and releasing her.
“She was quite out of it, presumably on crystal meth,” Dr. Hergott said.
About 15 minutes later, as the Hergotts were speaking with officers in the driveway, the same woman came walking down the street in their direction, her shoes in hand.
Dr. Hergott says the woman walked right past police and the homeowners and tried to re-enter the residence, telling officers that she had a key for the place.
“They arrested her a second time for trespassing - then they searched her, and they found she had some jewellery that she’d stolen from our house,” he said.
As the Hergotts began chatting up neighbours that same night, it became clear that property crimes - namely break-ins to homes and vehicles - had been on the rise in the neighbourhood over the past six months.
The physician decided to form a neighbourhood watch group over the course of the following month, sending flyers out to neighbours and starting a social media group.
'We've got to help get these people treatment'
But then, Dr. Hergott and his wife came to a realization.
“We got to the point of empathy. Here’s this poor girl, she’s wasted. She doesn’t know where she is,” said Dr. Hergott. “We have a drug problem in Sault Ste. Marie - I mean, obviously, we all know that.”
“The solution is, we’ve got to deal with the drug problem if we want to deal with the crime. We’ve got to help these people get treatment.”
But Dr. Hergott says there are a number of barriers for people needing treatment, including a lack of resources locally. He tells SooToday that a lack of trained addictions workers and a suitable withdrawal management facility is leading to people leaving the Sault just to enter detox.
“If somebody says I’ve had enough and don’t want to live like this anymore, we’ve got to have the resources there,” he said.
The physician has been bending ears in Sault Ste. Marie recently, engaging in discussions with the mayor, city councillors, hospital officials, the chief of police and the local member of provincial parliament.
Doctor wants to tackle addictions by committee
The committee Dr. Hergott wants to form is still very much in its infancy, with a small group of about a dozen people meeting for the first time this past Sunday.
“It was a small group, it was a last minute thing. It’s grown a bit since Sunday,” he told SooToday. “I think our goal now is to facilitate these people getting treatment."
"That is going to be our goal, to help these addicted people get treatment - and if that means lobbying the city, the province, or driving them to the hospital or whatever, these people need to get help.”
The physician is now looking to recruit more members in an effort to grow the committee on addictions, and hopes to hold another meeting within the next couple of weeks.
“We want to get people there who have a niche and a voice that can help us in certain areas and expertise,” said Dr. Hergott. “It’s important to have families that have been affected on this committee.”
Lately, Dr. Hergott has seen a number of calls on social media for vigilante justice due to property crime in the Sault, and says that’s simply not the answer.
There is an illness in this city and people are sick, he says, and the answer is treatment - something he's just not seeing in the Sault these days.
“Certainly, the number of small crimes are going up because of the increase in addiction in our community,” said Dr. Hergott. “I mean, it would be shameful if W5 came back and did a follow-up from three years ago - like, what would they find?”
“Our opiate deaths have gone up, our addictions rates have gone up. We are all upset about what they said about us, but if they came back and did a follow-up today, it would be absolutely embarrassing what’s happening here. And the Sault isn’t alone, this is all over Canada, every big city. We’re not unique,” he continued.
“But my little group wants to see what we can do to at least make treatment available for those few who choose, who want to get help.”