B.C. plan to hold youth in hospital after overdose may have unforeseen consequences: Youth workers - InfoNews

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B.C. plan to hold youth in hospital after overdose may have unforeseen consequences: Youth workers

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June 29, 2020 - 6:00 AM

The B.C. NDP's plan to involuntarily hold teens for up to one week following an overdose is coming from the right place but some youth workers are concerned it could wind up complicating care or even making a situation worse. 

They worry the proposed changes to the Mental Health Act may be a disincentive to seek medical help, it could erode trust in those trying to care for them and perhaps raise the risk of overdoses.

“The relationships we build with the youth is so important in helping them to feel empowered in their life and take steps toward wellness,” says Katherine McParland, executive director of A Way Home Kamloops. “I just worry about the potential negative impact of kind of being held against their will and breaching trust and relationships, and it may deter some youth from calling for support because they may be worried about this involuntary hospitalization.”

On Tuesday, the provincial government released a statement about the proposed changes, which would allow health care facilities to keep youth under 19 years old in the hospital for up to one week immediately following an overdose.

McParland says a better way is through continuous supports, something this proposed bill hasn’t addressed.

“I think this a good step in some ways because it shows our government is committed to supporting youth who use substances, but I do foresee some challenges,” McParland says. “For example, if a youth is in the hospital and when they’re discharged they’re not able to access treatment, there’s some risk in that. We know that after youth have detoxed off of substances they have a reduced tolerance, and so there could be an increased risk of overdose without access to those long-term voluntary supports.”

READ MORE: Kelowna youth addiction treatment centre gets anonymous $30,000 donation

McParland says her concerns mirror those laid out by Jennifer Charlesworth, B.C.’s representative for children and youth. Charlesworth said this week she believes the proposal, although made with good intentions, overlooks the community supports that she has been advocating for for years.

“I am disappointed by government’s move to create involuntary stabilization units for youth in the absence of a full array of voluntary community-based services to address substance use – services such as culturally appropriate, youth-specific and youth-friendly voluntary detox, intensive case management, day treatment and community residential treatment,” reads Charlesworth’s statement.

Although McParland worries about holding youth in hospital involuntarily and a lack of adequate aftercare, she recognizes a benefit to keeping youth in hospital, especially if they’re facing homelessness.

“In some ways, there are some benefits because it could help youth stabilize and give them some time to develop a plan. For example, if a youth is homeless, I think that would be ideal because sometimes youth can be discharged quite suddenly from the hospital after experiencing an overdose... but I do see in the long term a potential negative impact of potentially damaging trust and relationships. What really works well is helping youth to be empowered in their lives and to take steps with some support.”

MORE: Kamloops teen dies after apparent overdose

Nicole Arnould, director of youth and clinical services with Interior Community Services, estimates the number of young people in Kamloops who have substance use issues, particularly with opioids, has nearly doubled over the past year. She understands the benefit of allowing youth a safe place to be so they can create a recovery plan, although she says there are many other factors that should be considered before passing the bill.

“It’s no surprise to note that we are facing unprecedented times and we’re losing a lot of our young ones,” Arnould says. “We’ve had multiple conversations with some of our local folks about the overdose crisis and its effects on our young ones and we’re really sort of struggling to find what is the happy medium, how do we assist in a proactive way?”

Arnould notes that there is no residential detox program for youth in the region, and they have to go to the Lower Mainland or Keremeos to access those services. A local youth addiction centre is something she believes is needed in the region, as well as continuous supports afterwards.

Arnould says members with a youth street outreach program through Interior Community Services spend six nights a week on the streets helping youth between the ages of 14 to 26 who are struggling with addiction. Team members drive youth to rehabilitation centres, maintain frequent communication with them during their stay, and often have to travel to pick up the youth if they’ve relapsed or been discharged.

READ MORE: At-risk youth face new challenges because of COVID-19

Arnould says although the team does their best for Kamloops youth, more team members and services are needed to ensure successful recoveries.

“There’s the problem of aftercare - safe and supportive housing, there’s the problem of getting them immediately to their drug and alcohol services in a very quick and efficient manner, and they require fairly intensive support for the first three to six months following coming out of a residential treatment facility,” Arnould says. “Every other avenue has to have been explored before doing this. No one wants anyone to be held involuntarily. Absolutely not. And the condition of safety has to be met, and that, I think they’re not there yet.”

If you know a youth who is struggling with addiction issues, you can find assistance through HealthLinkBC, where you can find various resources for help. You can also call the Alcohol and Drug Information Referral Services at 1-800-663-1441, or the Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868.

— This story was updated at 1:50 p.m. on Monday, June 29, 2020 to correct the spelling of Arnould's name and to clarify information about the street outreach team. It had previously stated the Raven Program was responsible for the outreach program, though that is actually run through Interior Community Services.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Jenna Wheeler or call (250) 819-6089 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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