Sudbury·Audio

'People are looking for help,' says Sudbury mom as addiction wait lists grow

A mother in Sudbury is trying to get her daughter into a private addictions treatment program after a lengthy wait for the specialized program she needs in the public system.

Pandemic has grown addictions-care waits by 50% in Sudbury

Nora Carnegie, left, of Sudbury has been trying to get her daughter into a publicly funded addictions treatment program since March 2020, but is still waiting for space in a special program for people with concurrent disorders. (Supplied by Nora Carnegie)

The pandemic has led to increases for wait lists at publicly funded addictions treatment programs in the Sudbury, Ont., area, despite relatively steady numbers of people seeking help.

The growth stems from capacity restrictions, says Roxane Zuck, CEO of Monarch Recovery Services, which provides addiction recovery services for people 16 and older.

Both of the live-in treatment programs at Monarch Recovery have lost space due to capacity limits and the need for physical separation during the first two weeks of the program.

"We had to modify our programs, so our outreach programs, most of them are being done virtually now," Zuck said.

The live-in program for women normally has room for 14 people, but is operating at 10 per session. The men's program is operating at 14 beds, down from 18.

For the women's program, the average number of days on the wait list has risen to 64 in 2021, up from 41 days in 2020.

Zuck said she's waiting to see what will happen when pandemic restrictions ease.

"I don't know if there's going to be more people looking for services once everything starts opening up again ... so it's hard to say."

Specialized services carry longer wait

Nora Carnegie of Sudbury is advocating for her daughter, who is living with a fentanyl addiction. She has been trying to get into publicly funded treatment programs since the spring of 2020, but is waiting for a space in a concurrent disorders program — for patients with both a substance-use disorder and mental illness.

Carnegie estimated such programs have a wait list of up to two years.

One of her daughter's challenges is severe parasomnia, a condition that causes her to awaken frequently during the night, screaming and cursing, and has led to her having to leave previous live-in treatment programs.

"It's very loud, it's very disruptive, and that really didn't work out at that centre. And that's one of the reasons for the concurrent programs … they're more prepared to handle that," Carnegie said.

Wait lists are longer at concurrent programs because of their specialized nature, but Carnegie said the number of alternative options is growing.

Virtual treatment programs may have promise

Carnegie is running a crowdfunding campaign to cover the costs of her daughter entering a private, virtual addictions treatment program. Carnegie is living with terminal cancer and raising her grandson, and says that's why she can't otherwise cover the nearly $9,000 cost of the virtual option for her daughter.

Many live-in programs involve travelling away from one's home community to avoid social triggers that may lead a person to use drugs again. Once the program is over, however, the patient returns to that environment.

The presence of aftercare and regular check-ins varies between programs, but many people who have undergone treatment say they don't offer enough support to prevent relapses.

A virtual program takes place within that same environment full of triggers, which may help create more resilience. The privately funded service Carnegie is trying to access also offers up to two years of aftercare to ensure her daughter doesn't relapse.

It also means she can stay at home, where her parasomnia wouldn't impact the other patients.

Changes badly needed now, Carnegie says

Carnegie said she's heard of quickly worsening drug toxicity since the start of COVID-19. Her daughter has overdosed twice since early 2020, but medical teams have kept her alive.

Her daughter is getting help through Monarch Recovery Services' addiction supportive housing program, which helps to subsidize rent and provides access to a care worker.

However, it's far below the amount of support she needs to thrive. Carnegie said that with needs growing during the pandemic, more support is crucial to helping people recover and reintegrate in society.

She said there should be a stronger focus on mental health and prevention programs to reduce and prevent widespread addictions crises. 

"People are looking for help, and it doesn't come. By the time there's any intervention, it's the police; it's become a criminal matter," Carnegie said.

She said addictions impact everyone, directly or indirectly.

The pandemic has added additional pressures for people trying to access addiction treatment. We spoke with a woman in Sudbury who shared her experience trying to get her daughter into a program.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Warren Schlote is a reporter at CBC Sudbury. Connect with him via email at warren.schlote@cbc.ca, or on Twitter at @ReporterWarren.

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