Cora Sellers says system not equipped to handle crystal meth addictions

Cora Sellers has long spoken out for vulnerable people in Regina, but never about her own daughter's cycle of crystal meth addiction and trauma.

Regina advocate has struggled to help her daughter get through her addiction

Cora Sellers sometimes wonders if being a teen mom to her daughter Larissa and living in a domestic violence situation contributed to Larissa's challenges, including crystal meth addiction, today. (Submitted by Cora Sellers)

Cora Sellers has long spoken out for vulnerable people in Regina, but never about her own daughter's cycle of crystal meth addiction and trauma. 

"Waiting, hoping that she stays alive long enough to get help, it's just unbearable at times," she said. 

Sellers is taking on a new role with the Regina YWCA, after serving as executive director of Carmichael Outreach for more than six years.

Sellers says she saw people struggling with mental health, homelessness, poverty and addiction. When she first signed on it was alcohol gripping the community, but as time progressed crystal meth took its place. At the same time, it also wedged its way into her family and took hold of her daughter. 

Cora Sellers fears for her daughter, Larissa, pictured. She says she has 'seen people transform amazingly with the right support in place. The problem is we just don't have those supports.' (Submitted by Cora Sellers)

Five years ago, she said, Larissa was nearing the completion of a double degree in Indigenous studies and sociology at the University of Regina. Then she consumed meth and everything changed. 

"Within a matter of weeks, it just was all gone," Sellers said, adding her initial frustration quickly turned into an unrelenting helplessness as she watched her daughter unravel. 

Sellers is frustrated by the health-care system, because she's found that health-care professionals who dealt with Larissa didn't appear to take the addiction seriously. 

She said when Larissa was brought to the emergency room, sometimes by Sellers, she would often be given medication and sent away.

If they could get in to see a doctor, Sellers said she had to fight to get her care like an IV drip for hydration. 

"As an advocate who is fairly articulate and very strong-willed, I found it defeating myself — so I don't know how Larissa found it." 

Sellers's mom, Betty, took on a pivotal role in helping Larissa, as Sellers tried to balance helping her daughter and raising her other children. 

For years, Betty and her husband came to Larissa whenever she called.

Betty Sellers found time in the emergency room "astounding," as staff appeared to show little empathy for someone dealing with crystal meth withdrawal. For example, a simple request for a blanket was allegedly denied. 

She wants to see change. 

"The hospitals have to have a special unit of medical staff who can deal with drug addiction," she said. "That when the addict comes off the street and needs help they're immediately booked in." 

Betty and Cora Sellers say they love Larissa but can't deny the toll addiction takes on the family. (Kendall Latimer/CBC)

Cora Sellers said some people believe it should be up to family members or the individual struggling to deal with the addiction. But she said addiction is a health-care issue and should be treated as such. 

She also believes addiction is a response to trauma. At times, she wonders if she contributed to her daughter's troubles by being a teen mother living in a domestic violence situation.

Detox challenges 

Larissa had gotten help last year but relapsed near Christmastime. She was recently able to get into a detox program, but Sellers said it was a harrowing fight to get her there. She's found that the 28-day detox model is not equipped to handle meth — and that's what the majority of detox beds in the province offer

She's found that there's not enough beds, as wait-lists remain long and the requirements to get in don't align with someone crashing from meth.

She said her daughter was required to call into detox once a day while on the wait-list. For 19 days she called but was bumped from second place to 17th after missing one day. 

She added the rules inside are stringent and not sympathetic to how irrational someone coming off the drug will be. Sellers said there's a place for policy and procedure, but there also needs to be flexibility. 

Former Carmichael Outreach executive director Cora Sellers will continue to advocate for vulnerable people, as she joins Regina's YWCA as senior director of women's housing. (CBC News/Tyler Pidlubny)

She also casts doubt about the supports, or lack thereof, that are in place post-detox. Barriers to social assistance, housing and mental-health support can await those who leave.

This troubles Sellers, because she said people who physically detox from meth appear to be affected psychologically long after the using stops. 

Sellers said specialized care and a change to the systems are needed in Saskatchewan as the crystal meth crisis continues to grow. 

Her mother agrees. 

"This meth addiction goes across the whole spectrum of society," Betty Sellers said. "There's a lot of youth right now who, their lives are destroyed and they're going to end up dead."