Ottawa Terror Suspect Had Sought Drug Treatment in 2012

Ottawa Terror Suspect Had Sought Drug Treatment in 2012

Ottawa Terror Suspect Had Sought Drug Treatment in 2012

Ottawa Terror Suspect Had Sought Drug Treatment in 2012Drug dependency can drive its victims to acts of desperation. This was the definitely the case in December 2011, when a 29-year-old devout Muslim with a history of mental illness and drug abuse tried to hold up a McDonald’s restaurant in Vancouver, British Columbia. Rather than fleeing the scene after his robbery attempt proved futile, the man instead waited outside the restaurant for the police to arrive and submitted to arrest without protest. Later, he told his attorney and the court that he’d committed his crime because he wanted to be incarcerated, so he would be eligible to receive court-ordered rehabilitation services for his addiction to crack cocaine.

Unfortunately, the man was only held in custody for a little over two months, and despite his pleas for help and signs that seemed to indicate mental illness, he was released without receiving treatment. Nothing was heard from this individual again, until Oct. 22, 2014, when images of Michael Zehaf-Bibeau were splashed across newspapers, television news programs and computer screens all across the globe, following his violent and deadly terrorist attack against Ottawa’s National War Monument and the Canadian Parliament building.

In addition to his battles against drug addiction and mental disease — or perhaps because of them — Zehaf-Bibeau eventually fell under the spell of a radical terrorist ideology. His assault against the pillars of Canadian society followed the confiscation of his passport, after authorities learned he’d planned to travel overseas to fight against Western forces in the Middle East.

Investigation into Zehaf-Bibeau’s background is continuing. But what has so far emerged is a picture of a troubled drifter without a home, family or support network of any kind that might have helped him overcome decade-long issues with poor mental health and drug abuse. In 2012, Zehaf-Bibeau apparently did enter rehab on his own for twin addictions to crack cocaine and heroin, but his attempt to get clean and sober proved unsuccessful. A court-ordered evaluation following his December 2011 arrest surprisingly found no evidence of mental illness, and none was ever officially diagnosed by medical authorities anywhere. However, those who knew him well are almost unanimous in their assertion that his mental health difficulties were real and significant.

Michael Zehaf-Bibeau’s Fall Into Infamy

It would be highly unfair to suggest that Canadian health and legal authorities are somehow responsible for Zehaf-Bibeau’s foul actions or his final sorry fate (he was shot dead by guards inside the Parliament building). Despite a history of encounters with law enforcement, Zehaf-Bibeau appears to be one of those isolated, lonely individuals who simply fell through the cracks of society. Without probable cause to suggest he might be dangerous or violent, Canadian authorities had little choice but to release him from custody on numerous occasions following various brushes with the law, none of which had involved serious crimes. None, that is, until the horrors he perpetrated on Oct. 22, which have shaken the Canadian people to the core.

Zehaf-Bibeau’s trials and tribulations and ultimate descent into madness reveal the toll that runaway addiction can take on victims who don’t get treatment and don’t have family or friends around to look out for them. Drug addicts and alcoholics are frequent perpetrators of violent acts, and long-term substance abusers like Zehaf-Bibeau can on occasion become a true threat to society if their chemical dependencies are allowed to linger and fester for too long.

Untreated mental illness is also a part of the story here; about 20 percent of those with mental health issues will eventually develop a substance abuse problem, as these individuals turn to drugs and alcohol to help cope with the struggles they experience. Prolonged and continuous use of intoxicants can also play a role in the onset of certain types of mental disorders and psychosis, leaving us to question in the case of someone like Zehaf-Bibeau what exactly came first — the “chicken” of drug addiction or the “egg” of mental illness?

Drug and Alcohol Addiction Continues to Claim Lives

In an ideal world, every addict and alcoholic, regardless of family history, criminal record and mental health background, would be eligible to receive comprehensive, affordable healthcare, up to and including high-quality addiction treatment and rehabilitation. Unfortunately, this goal is neither practical nor achievable, and even if funding for such services were expanded by 1,000 percent, some addicts would continue to slip through the safety net.

Truthfully, there is no telling how or if things might have been different if the person responsible for the terrorist attacks in Ottawa had been given extensive treatment for his drug addiction when he first asked for it back in 2011. Even if his wish for rehabilitation had been granted, there is no guarantee it would have worked or prevented him from later embracing the extreme ideology that twisted his perspective and led to his violent outburst.

But most of the addicts who need help and don’t receive it never reach a stage where they are beyond redemption. And the majority of them have families who are actively involved in their lives and would do everything in their power to support the healing process if their loved ones did manage to find the right treatment environment.

Far too many people with significant drug and alcohol problems are falling through the cracks, and this is a human tragedy that, while not avoidable in every case, is certainly preventable in a high percentage of instances. More awareness, more attention, more funding, more understanding — all of these and more are the keys to reducing the body count attributable to the depredations of addiction. Whether the victims are the substance abusers themselves or others impacted by their actions, tragedies are occurring and lives are being lost, and this should be more than enough to provoke a stronger societal response.

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