Rose Barbour is fighting for her son’s life.
The young man, who will be called John in this article, has a disease that could kill him.
Treatment will hopefully save John but he needs the right treatment at the right time, says Barbour.
John’s disease — drug addiction — is far too common in Prince Edward Island. A look at the population in the Provincial Correctional Centre, where John is currently serving his third sentence for stealing to support his crippling habit, reveals the heavy toll on both addict and society alike.
More than half of the people prosecuted in the courts of P.E.I. are actively engaged in drug use, says Gerald Quinn, senior Crown attorney for the province. People using addictive drugs have committed some of the most blatant and senseless crimes he’s come across in his 22-year career with the Crown.
Barbour, of Charlottetown, has grown all too familiar with the long, damaging reach of addiction by witnessing her son’s life come off the rails and, for the most part, stay off the rails.
John, 21, has been using drugs since he was 13, starting with marijuana and progressing to opiates. He escalated to injecting drugs about three months before he eventually hit rock bottom. Finally, he sought help.
“It was the happiest day of our lives when our son told us recently that he wanted to go to treatment,’’ said Barbour. “It took years for him to get to this point.’’
Both John’s family doctor and his psychiatrist recommended a stint at a residential treatment centre to be in this addict’s best interest.
Crime, unfortunately, got in the way.
While waiting for approval to attend the treatment centre, John confessed to shoplifting because, his mom says, he wanted to start a new life without anything from his past coming back to haunt him.
“Much to our shock, the province refused to send him for treatment,’’ said Barbour. “How could they say no to someone who is so sick and wanting to get better?’’
Instead, the province wanted to have John start seeing a counselor once per week and attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings. But John’s addiction, stresses mom, is too far advanced for an outpatient service such as that suggested by the province to be effective.
Barbour wants better for her son. She wants better for other young addicts as well.
Many families, she says, are frustrated with the limited treatment options in Prince Edward Island.
She has been doing all she can to impact positive change. She is constantly trying to get a better handle on addiction, reading up on studies, reports and research.
She started a Nar-Anon group for the loved ones of addicts last February in Charlottetown. She speaks to university students and community groups about her family’s experience with addiction.
She is set to go into junior high schools this month with Charlottetown Police Services Const. Tim Keizer to assist in a drug prevention program.
“I am trying to stop the stigma associated with addiction so that people will be comfortable getting the help that they need,’’ she said. “I also want to make sure that adequate help is there when they do ask for it.’’
John gets out of jail in a couple weeks. Naturally, mom wants her boy to get the most appropriate help to treat his addiction.
“We can’t jail our way out of this,’’ she said. “We need adequate treatment.’’
The province has plenty of addiction services, notes Margaret Kennedy, director of mental health and addictions with Health P.E.I.
Demand keeps growing for those services. There were 983 admissions last year for inpatient detoxification, tallying a whopping 5,728 bed days. Addiction to opiates, which is John’s ongoing nightmare, accounted for more than half those admissions.
Addicts are also beating a path to outpatient detoxification and individual counseling, said Kennedy. Each year, hundreds of family members of addicts are even accessing counseling services.
A day program called Strength has also been doing brisk business since opening in January 2010. Kennedy says the program is aimed at addicts who need more intensive service than individual counseling.
Participants in the program, that runs five days a week for eight weeks, typically fall between the ages of 18 and 25. There is counseling, group programming, life skills, and focus on mental health issues.
“It has a variety of services,’’ said Kennedy.
Half of the 126 clients to date have had probation involvement. Three were transfers from an adult correctional facility and four were transfers from a youth correctional facility.
Barbour is impressed with the program.
“I know a lot of good people work for addiction services such as the staff at the Strength program who are very genuine and caring,’’ she said.
“They really want the youth to succeed and stay clean. The problem is that the program is not long enough. These same wonderful people would be just as wonderful working in a residential treatment program.’’
One major shortfall in addiction services, concedes Kennedy, is the failure to get treatment in a timely fashion for addicts once they are released from prison.
Correctional Services approached Health P.E.I. about 18 months ago to say too many addicts that are released from jail are not able to access addiction services in a seamless fashion.
So they typically continue their harmful addiction. They return to crime to feed their addiction. They return to jail.
“It’s a vicious cycle,’’ said Kennedy. “It’s a disease where relapse is more or less expected.’’
Kennedy hopes considerable improvement is just around on the corner.
She expects a new protocol to be in place in the next month or so that will allow addicts after serving a sentence to enter immediately into appropriate addiction treatment.
“If they need treatment, we have treatment available,’’ she said.
“This is a very tough disease, addiction...some people are motivated (to address their problem) and some people are not motivated...it’s a very tough disease to treat.’’
All Barbour is asking for is that her son and other addicts are given a fighting chance to turn their lives around.
“Addiction is a disease and, therefore, a health issue,’’ she said.
“Like any disease, adequate treatment is needed for the patient to get better. If left untreated, the results are devastating for the addicted person, their families, and the entire community.’’