British Columbia

What we learned phoning every drug rehab facility in British Columbia

For one week last month, CBC News called all the drug addiction rehab facilities in British Columbia it could find, pretending to be the mother of “Chelsea”, a 16-year-old girl addicted to heroin, or “Dustin”, who’s 23 and addicted to opioids.

In B.C. right now, it’s possible to get quick, affordable and effective help, but it’s difficult

As part of its series on the opioid overdose crisis, CBC News in British Columbia called every drug rehabilitation centre in the province to understand how hard it is to access treatment. (iStock)

We've been doing something that a mother hopes to never have to do.

For one week in August, we called all the drug addiction rehab facilities in British Columbia we could find, pretending to be the mother of "Chelsea", a 16-year-old girl addicted to heroin, or "Dustin", who's 23 and addicted to opioids.

That's how we introduced ourselves to drug recovery homes and detox centres across the province as we looked for help, learning that mothers of adult addicts face a confusing patchwork of options with no clear path.

The first-hand research was done to get a picture of what parents encounter when they are trying to help their child. We created our fictional profile to be sure we got an accurate picture of available treatment.

In B.C. right now, it's possible to get quick, affordable and effective help. But it's hard.

This story is part of a CBC investigative series on the fentanyl addiction crisis in B.C. and its implications for the rest of Canada. Read more in the series:

​We spoke with many compassionate people across the province who really want to help, but they can't always.

There's no drug rehab TripAdvisor — you can only hope that well-meaning people will guide you.

One critic even ranted that it was a crime there were no report cards, no regulators and no list for parents looking for good rehabilitation centres that were ministry-accredited.

Young offenders, First Nations have designated spots

If your son or daughter is under 19, access to government-funded programs depends entirely on where you live in the province, whether your child is in the justice system or whether they are Aboriginal.  

Most programs are not residential or full time. Timing is everything. Somebody leaves or graduates and a spot is available.

But, we called any and every possible addiction service hoping that one will have the answer we sought: A full-time rehab facility that could take our child right away and help her beat the addiction and put it behind her.

In total, we phoned over 150. Here's what we found:

Wait times fluctuate wildly

A day. A week. Seven to eight weeks. Six months. It varies. Timing is everything. People quit, spots come up.

Wait times can be as long as six months for the places in high demand, but many rehabs won't tell you that. They just say a bed is just coming up. The addict must call in every day and try to snag it. Mothers say that can translate into weeks, even months. A call and a failure every day.

This can be devastating as the window of opportunity is crucial — one mother lost her son during the waiting period, as she was denied Suboxone and rehab for him, despite calling every day.

'Rehab' means different things at different centres

With adult rehab centres, the quality and range of service is all over the map. A few offer evidence-based medical care, fold in yoga, acupuncture, neuro-feedback and more, and charge a lot of money.

Others adhere to a faith-based, cold turkey boot camp rules approach, and even subsidize the stay. Others are focused on taking your son's social assistance cheque, even to help him set up an account, but don't have much to say about programming.

Off the record, intake workers will warn you off places that are only interested in the cheque. It's difficult to discern over the phone who those are, but they often will accept people high on Suboxone or methadone.

These places are described as "three hots and a cot," only with no real program, rules or concern if your loved one slips.

Pushback against evidence-based treatment

Facilities have limited beds for people on maintenance drugs, as that requires trips to the pharmacy and more care. They explain that they only accept addicts on low levels of maintenance drugs.

Many more — in fact the majority that we spoke to — adhere to AA or 12-step regimes, and resist harm reduction as a waste of time. They insist it's all nonsense, despite compelling science.

A few ban drugs entirely — even anti-depressants, which can be dangerous. They especially discourage methadone, calling it "the government taking over as the dealer."

They warn to avoid methadone and Suboxone and find a place where the user can be stripped bare of any chemicals — ignoring science that has proven Suboxone's ability to lessen withdrawal symptoms and really help people kick opioids and saves lives.

The drug is supposed to be the first line of treatment for opioid addiction in B.C.

Alberta was one of the first provinces to cover suboxone which can be prescribed to help with opiate withdrawal.

Only works with buy-in

How do you gauge the quality of the place you are sending your loved one? The price can range from signing over his social assistance cheque to $10,000 a month. There are no guarantees that more expensive treatment works.

Some parents describe their child returning from expensive rehabilitation care only to overdose days or weeks later, once out of the control of a strict rehab environment in a remote location.

And ultimately, in the public system a person has to want treatment — even people under 18 have to go voluntarily. Success depends on commitment.

"They have to want to do it," is the phrase you hear over and over — a mantra that seems to suggest the only person failing an addict is that addict.


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