Manitoba

'It's a joke': Manitoba family moves to Alberta to get teen daughter addictions help

After exhausting efforts to access youth addictions services in Manitoba, a Winnipeg family has picked up and moved to Calgary in hopes of saving their 16-year-old daughter's life.
Karen Jones says families should not have to leave Manitoba to get long-term addictions help for a child. (CBC News)

After exhausting efforts to access youth addictions services in Manitoba, a Winnipeg family has picked up and moved to Calgary in hopes of saving their 16-year-old daughter's life.

CBC has agreed to change the family's names to protect the teen's privacy.

Karen Jones says she has spent the past two years watching her bright, caring daughter spiral into severe depression and drug addiction.

Her daughter, Sarah, began using marijuana and Xanax at age 14 to escape the pain of relentless bullying.

"She was being threatened at the school," Jones said. "She couldn't leave the house without kids tormenting her in the neighbourhood."

Sarah changed schools multiple times and began counselling but her mother said the threats continued along with her daughter's drug use.

"She got a video from one of her bulliers saying 'just go drink some bleach and kill yourself already. Nobody likes you anyway,'" Jones said.

'Nothing I could do'

The family sought residential addictions treatment for Sarah at the Behavioural Health Foundation in 2016.

Sarah remained clean for a month before falling back to drugs and alcohol.

The teen began using cocaine, ecstasy and crystal meth and her mother said she became increasingly determined to die.

"I could see her spiralling. I knew she was using but there was nothing I could do," she said.

The Behavioural Health Foundation, where Sarah was first successful, closed its youth addictions services in 2016.
After exhausting efforts to access youth addictions services in Manitoba, a Winnipeg family has picked up and moved to Calgary in hopes of saving their 16-year-old daughter's life. 2:32

The family said they turned to every resource they could find: the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba, a family doctor, social workers and even got a court order to have her taken to the Youth Addictions Stabilization Unit, which provides short-term drug withdrawal support.

Sarah attended a handful of times, but was released after a few days and went back to using, her mother said.

The AFM offers a six-week program, Compass Residential Youth Program, that sees roughly 60 youth per year. Sarah applied in May of this year, but the program is voluntary and when she was accepted she didn't want to go and Jones couldn't convince her, Jones said.

If a child has diabetes, if a child has cancer, we don't wait for them to ask for help.- Karen Jones

"The response was she needed to hit rock bottom and ask for help," she said. "It was scary, it was frustrating. You just felt hopeless."

Even the Children's Hospital wasn't able to intervene, Jones said. She took her daughter to the emergency department when she began expressing thoughts of suicide and cutting but Sarah was examined and released, she said.

"Unless she would say to them 'yes I am suicidal right now' they couldn't or wouldn't do anything … even though she was 14, 15, 16," Jones said.

Ian Rabb, director of business development at Aurora Recovery Centre, a private addictions facility for adults in Manitoba, said Jones's daughter's story is not unique.

"I would say we get 10 calls a month from families," Rabb said. "The fact is any kind of help here around mental health and addictions services is difficult."

Rabb said there are no private facilities for youth within Manitoba. He said the biggest challenge with publicly funded treatment is the lack of continuum of care. 

"Once someone is locked down in YASU (Youth Addictions Stabilization Unit) you have to get buy in for them to want to go to Compass," he said. "And you also have to get them a bed in Compass," something Rabb says isn't always immediately available.

Care in Manitoba 'a joke,' family says

The family said they found themselves with nowhere else to turn. Private facilities in Manitoba don't offer youth addictions services and the public support available hinged on her daughter wanting help, Jones said.

"It's a joke," she said. "If a child has diabetes, if a child has cancer, we don't wait for them to ask for help. We don't wait for them to be on death's door before we intervene."

Desperate for help, the family began looking outside of the province and country for adolescent addictions treatment.

In September, Jones said she tricked her daughter into going on a trip to Calgary and signed her into a private, long-term addiction recovery centre for children under the age of 18. The centre also requires family members to participate in counselling.

A portion of the treatment is subsidized by the centre, but still comes with a price tag of approximately $4,400 per month, Jones said.

"My husband and I are physically separated, because he had to stay in Winnipeg to work. He has to work," she said, adding they have borrowed money to cover the first few months of care and are trying to raise funds online to support Sarah through the remainder of her recovery.

Families shouldn't have to leave, mother says

Jones wants to see a long-term addictions recovery facility for youth in Manitoba. 

"I want Manitoba to know that there is a need," Jones said. "Families shouldn't have to be separated. Families shouldn't have to leave the province to get help."

If the province can't offer comparable treatment, it shouldn't be up to families to cover the cost of going elsewhere, she said.

In an email, a spokesperson for Manitoba's health minister said, "we know there is work to do to strengthen the system and improve access to and coordination of mental health and addictions services in Manitoba."

The province does assist with the cost of some physician-prescribed medical treatment not available in Manitoba "based on a specific approval process."

The statement goes on to say the province has hired "Virgo Planning and Evaluation Incorporated to assist our government with the development of a comprehensive mental health and addiction strategy."

The spokesperson said recommendations are expected by the end of this year.

Rabb said there is a "great need" for a long-term youth addictions treatment facility in Manitoba. Aurora Recovery Centre is considering it as they expand, he said.

"We know that the longer someone can be engaged in a healthy community treatment program the better chances of success," Rabb said.

Still, Jones said the sacrifice of uprooting her daughter and moving to Alberta has been worth it.

She can finally go to sleep knowing where her daughter is.

"It's like oxygen to someone who has been drowning," Jones said. "To see her with a clear mind. To have her throw herself into my arms and say 'I love you' ... I didn't know that would ever happen again."
After exhausting efforts to access youth addictions services in Manitoba, a Winnipeg family has picked up and moved to Calgary in hopes of saving their 16-year-old daughter's life. 3:10

About the Author

Jill Coubrough

Reporter, CBC News

Jill Coubrough is a video journalist with CBC News based in Winnipeg. Before joining CBC Manitoba, she worked as a reporter for CBC News in Halifax and an associate producer for CBC's documentary series Land and Sea. She holds a degree in political studies from the University of Manitoba and a degree in journalism from the University of King's College in Halifax. Email: jillian.coubrough@cbc.ca.