IF NOT NOW, WHEN?
We have all seen the news headlines: with the current opiate crisis, illicit drug overdose deaths in 2018 are expected to exceed last year’s numbers and longer term predictions are grim. In April 2016, the Province of British Columbia declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency. Since then, the number of deaths due to illicit drugs have increased across our province and in particular here at home. The Coroners Service recently released the following findings confirming the lethal trend we have witnessed on our streets first-hand:
The Okanagan witnessed 126 overdose deaths last year, with 66 of these occurring in Kelowna, our own back yard. Twenty-three of those who died due to illicit drugs in our province last year were children and youth between the ages of 10 and 18. The rate of young people dying from overdose doubled from 2016 to 2017 and shows no sign of abating.
The reasons behind child and teen drug and alcohol use are numerous and complex. Mental health barriers, toxic home environments and emotional distress are just a few of the underlying forces that may affect an enduring, painful struggle with addiction. Family support for adolescents is not guaranteed, especially for those who have forged the courage to save themselves from a dangerous home life. For many of these youth, a live-in rehabilitative program with medical supports, counselling and life skills programs may be key to their hope for survival in a world where a lethal drug can kill in one minuscule dose.
There are fewer than 50 publicly funded substance use treatment beds for youth in all of BC. Just four of those beds are designated for our community’s young people, between the ages of 17 to 24, and there are NO beds available to children under 17. Yet Statistics Canada reports 68,000 youth in Canada meet the diagnostic criteria for problematic substance use. While the majority of these youth will not need intensive treatment, the limited number of beds available does not come close to meeting the need.
At The Bridge, we have supported children as young as 13 through our Youth Withdrawal Management program. Here, they spend a mere 15 days housed with us. Many return to poverty, homelessness, and life on the streets. Unfortunately, with limited follow-on services available, children’s and teens’s tolerance is weakened and they are often more vulnerable, both physically and emotionally, to relapse and potentially die upon leaving our care.