Pubdate: Sun, 14 Aug 2016
Source: Province, The (CN BC)
Page: 9
Copyright: 2016 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Mike Smyth


Liberals Falling Short on Promises on Critical Issue of 
Addiction-Treatment Beds

Last month, Premier Christy Clark stood at a news conference at 
Vancouver's St. Paul's Hospital to announce a task force on an 
opioid-overdose crisis that's killing hundreds of British Columbians.

"This is an urgent health emergency and we need to deal with it right 
away," Clark told reporters.

Standing next to Clark was a heatbroken B.C. mom, Leslie McBain, 
whose only son died from an opioid overdose two years ago.

But while McBain appreciated Clark's words - and the warm embrace she 
received from the premier in front of the TV cameras - McBain sees a 
glaring lack of action behind the talk.

"At least she noticed the problem - but that's about the best I can 
say about it," McBain said in an interview. "It's not nearly enough."

McBain, who operates a small contracting business with her husband on 
Pender Island, got a phone call in 2014 that no parent should ever 
have to receive.

Her 25 year-old son, Jordan Miller, had died from an overdose of 
oxycodone and anxiety medications. Miller got hooked on oxycodone two 
years earlier after a doctor prescribed the powerful opioid 
painkiller to treat a back injury.

Overdose deaths are becoming grimly familiar in B.C., where an 
epidemic has been fuelled by the spread of fentanyl and other 
dangerous opioid street drugs.

There were 371 overdose deaths in the first six months of this year - 
a shocking 74-per-cent increase over the same period in 2015.

"It's psychologically and emotionally devastating to lose a child," 
said McBain, who has formed a support network of parents of overdose 
victims called Moms Stop The Harm.

"Living with a broken heart becomes your new normal. But I'm moving 
on. And I'm learning to make some noise."

Much of that noise is directed at the Clark government, especially 
over a shortage of addiction services.

McBain said her son wanted to break free of his addiction, but he was 
unable to access medical services to help him through withdrawal 
symptoms after a short period of not using drugs.

"We couldn't find any support," McBain said. "We couldn't find a 
doctor to help with his recovery process. We couldn't find a recovery 
bed. He relapsed and died."

Tragically, tales of parents trying - and failing - to get treatment 
for their addicted kids is becoming almost as common as the overdose 
deaths that follow.

British Columbians were shocked one week ago when 16-year-old Gwyn 
Staddon died of an overdose in the washroom of a Starbucks coffee 
shop in Port Moody.

Gwyn's mother, Veronica, said she tried to get her daughter into treatment.

"The waiting list is four to six months," Veronica Staddon said, 
adding she couldn't afford private residential treatment programs 
that can cost tens of thousands of dollars per month.

"You either pay a lot of money or wait," she said.

A 15-year-old friend of Staddon, who also pleaded for help to get off 
drugs, said she was told to wait, too.

"I was on two waiting lists," the girl, who asked not to be 
identified, told radio station CKNW. "Both times they said it would 
be three to six months, but I never heard from them. It's been over a 
year now."

The B.C. ministry of health acknowledged there can be waits for entry 
into residential treatment centres, but emphasized drug-addicted 
youths are always given help.

"If a patient's health-care team determines residential care is the 
best course of treatment, and there is a wait for these services, 
health authorities work to ensure the patient's immediate needs 
continue to be met through less intensive community programs," the 
ministry said in a statement.

The government says it spends $1.4 billion a year on mental-health 
and substance-abuse services for patients of all ages, and 27,000 
children and youth receive services a year.

But on the critical issue of addiction-treatment beds, the governing 
Liberals are falling short of their promises.

In the 2013 election campaign, Christy Clark promised to create 500 
new addiction-treatment beds by 2017. So far, only 220 beds have been 
delivered, and the 500 target number was quietly dropped from the 
most recent health ministry service plan.

The government blames budget pressures, saying it will cost up to $40 
million to deliver the 500 promised beds.

"Is it a challenge? Yes," Health Minister Terry Lake told the legislature.

But critics say the additional treatment beds are an urgent priority.

"This is a public-health emergency _ the provincial health officer 
declared that himself _ but the government isn't responding like it's 
an emergency," said NDP health critic Mike Farnworth.

Farnworth said urgent action should be directed at young people.

"Early intervention is key," Farnworth said. "The earlier a young 
person gets treatment, the better the chances of success. Wait lists 
are unacceptable.

"When you have a 16-year-old girl overdosing in a Starbucks bathroom, 
if that doesn't tell you there's a problem then what does? Parents 
with kids in crisis should not be told to wait six months."

Meanwhile, there are other measures the government could be taking 
immediately. Last month, Farnworth introduced a private member's bill 
in the legislature to ban the unregulated sale of pill presses.

The specialized equipment, which can be used to make street drugs, is 
heavily regulated and restricted in the United States and other jurisdictions.

"You can't get these machines in the States without permission, but 
there's a company in Coquitlam that sells them over the Internet to 
anybody," Farnworth said.

The government didn't call Farnworth's bill for debate - "We could 
have passed it in a day," he complains - while Clark called on the 
federal government to take action on the pill-press issue.

But passing the buck won't cut it for long as a 2017 election 
approaches and pressure rises on the government. Watch for Christy 
Clark's Liberals to take more aggressive action on the overdose 
crisis with an election-campaign looming.

For grieving parents, it will come too late.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom