People seeking help for addiction must get it in a timely manner

Letters to the Editor (The Guardian)
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Wait times continue to be an issue at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital's emergency department.

By Rose Barbour (guest opinion)

My heart went out to Tara Myers and her sister when I read their story on February 5. I know all too well the frustrations that they experienced that night in the ER. I’ve been there many times and so have many others.

I know that reporters need balance in their stories (as it should be) so they speak to both sides. In this case, Teresa Wright spoke with Pam Trainor, executive director of acute care and mental health and addictions for Health P.E.I. I would just like to comment on a few of Ms. Trainor’s responses.

First of all, she mentioned that some people still have to wait up to 10 days for a bed at detox. “It all depends on how sick the addicted person is when they reach out.” Addiction is a chronic and very serious brain disease. More people die from it each year than car accidents. If they are addicted, they are very sick. We have to take immediate action when they reach out for help because tomorrow may be too late. Perhaps what Ms. Trainor means is that it depends on how desperate they are. Will they harm themselves or someone else? A disease should never have to get to that point before one gets in for treatment.

She suggested that not every patient needs in-patient withdrawal and that some people do very well with outpatient withdrawal. While it wasn’t mentioned in the article, it is important to note that this is not an option for people battling a serious drug addiction. In fact, it could be very dangerous. Outpatient detox is for soft drugs, not opiates. In all the literature that I have ever read about serious drug addiction, they all recommend medical supervision when you detox. This was confirmed on April 30, 2013, when I called Mount Herbert about their outpatient withdrawal program and was told that it is not for serious drug addictions.

It was stated that people with the disease of addiction go to the ER if they are very ill where they will be triaged according to the severity of their illness. Why wouldn’t Ms. Myers’ sister be considered urgent when it is inevitable that withdrawals are coming and they are very serious? We can’t wish them away.

The longer the wait, the more painful it gets until it becomes unbearable, which it did in the sister’s case. Was there no means of providing her comfort? If not, why not be upfront and apologize and say that we don’t have the resources to treat you here? That would be more humane than leaving her waiting in extreme agony and pain.

We need to put the resources in place so  addiction can be treated like any other serious illness by medical personnel. They can only work with what they have to offer.

On a positive note, the government has made an investment in addiction services with more coming in the future. Thanks to the investment last fall, my loved one received the help that he desperately needed. Today, he is doing amazingly well and, as a family, we have begun to heal.

We need to ensure that people who seek help for this very serious disease get it in a timely manner. Lives depend on it.


Rose Barbour, Charlottetown, is an advocate for Islanders battling addiction and does public speaking on the issue. She writes a blog ‘Living in the Shadows in Prince Edward Island.’

Geographic location: Mount Herbert, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island

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