British Columbia has a bifurcated addictions treatment system. There’s one for people with money and/or employee benefit plans and one for the rest.
It shouldn’t be like this at any time. But especially not when it affects vulnerable kids and not now when we’re six years into an overdose epidemic that is only getting worse.
Over the past few decades, governments have turned parents and kids into beggars.
Desperate parents without means are left to plead with ministers, strangers or journalists for help regardless of whether their kids are pre-teens or adults.
But hooray for the kindness of strangers! Two 17-year-old girls that I wrote about last week are going to be getting gender-specific, trauma-informed residential treatment starting early this week.
Donors are paying what the government refused to do despite the families’ pleas — $27,000 for each girl for the three-month program at Westminster House.
“If I only had room on my credit card, I would have put the full cost on it,” one of the girls’ mothers told me. But she’s on maternity leave and her husband was one of thousands who lost his job during COVID.
(Names are not being used to protect the girl’s and the family’s privacy.)
If they could have afforded it, their daughter might already have ‘graduated’ or been on the cusp of ‘graduating’ from Westminster House.
Instead, her addiction that began after a sexual assault got worse as did the sexual harassment along with her fear of further assaults.
That’s not what happens to kids whose families can write cheques. As soon as those kids are willing, their families pay up to $20,000 a month at the best known treatment centres. Some entice their kids with treatment in exotic places like Thailand and hire minders to escort them and ensure they make it there.
But for most youth and their families, that’s not a possibility.
They’re stuck here where there simply aren’t enough government-funded services, let alone specialized ones for children and teens needing trauma care.
Healing from sexual and physical violence requires being in a safe place. For girls, that usually means away from men and boys. But the government only funds co-ed youth residential treatment even though the absurdity of traumatized kids with raging hormones living safely side by side in care seems obvious.
It even refuses to commit to including gender-specific care in the $36-million plan for an additional 123 youth residential treatment beds by 2023. A ministry spokesperson said that’s up to the regional health authorities to decide.
Without families who have houses to remortgage, savings, credit cards with high spending limits or have employee benefits that cover treatment, many kids just get sicker, more vulnerable and harder to treat.
“You just assume that there would be a place for them to go,” the mother said. “You just assume that we’d prioritize our children.”
Her daughter was offered a detox bed in a city 90 minutes away from her home where she could stay for seven to 10 days. But after that, she was supposed to go home and somehow carry on.
It didn’t seem a viable option. The family tried detoxing her at home. She stayed off drugs for a few days and then relapsed.
The ministry offered to put her name on a waiting list for a bed at Peak House, a co-ed youth centre in Vancouver. The counsellor her family had hired to help recommended against it. Regardless, the girl refused to go.
The only other advice ministry outreach workers had for the Mom was to tell her daughter to get her drugs tested for fentanyl. They told the mother at least that way your daughter won’t die of an opioid overdose — as if fentanyl were the only danger her daughter faced as she chased down drugs to ease her pain.
Aside from completely ignoring the fact that this teen wants to quit drugs, even as a harm reduction strategy, it’s fraught.
Planning ahead is tough for most teens, let alone youth in addictions.
And how are they supposed to get to a testing site if they don’t live in a neighbourhood like the downtown eastside or have access to a car? Take the bus?
Until it happened in her family, the mother assumed like most of us that help is available.
“I was so naive as to what we were facing. I couldn’t begin to grasp the difficult road to recovery for youth.”
She wept when told that donors stepped up and will cover the full cost of her daughter’s treatment.
“It was like I could breath again,” she said. Her daughter is “overjoyed.”
Every day, hundreds of other B.C. kids and families hold their breath, hoping for the best and fearing the worst.
Premier John Horgan proved during COVID that the government can pivot swiftly in a crisis.
This too is a crisis with long-lasting effects. Over to you, Premier.