KAMLOOPS - As Laurel Smith sits on the back porch at her home in Westsyde, she speaks through tears, wondering if and when her 21-year-old daughter will let her mother pick her up to get her the help she needs.
Laurel feels like she’s out of options when it comes to getting her daughter Mckenna Smith help for her crystal meth addiction.
Mckenna is homeless, living in Penticton, far from her parents and family in Kamloops. Her mother says she's living with an abusive boyfriend who also struggles with addiction.
But she’s on probation, and Laurel says using drugs or alcohol is a violation of that order. She finds herself in the unusual and desperate position of trying to get her daughter back in jail to give her another chance at a life off the street.
"I’m waiting for my kid to die, or get murdered, or (overdose),” she says.
Laurel is one of thousands of parents in B.C. who are trying to figure out how to get their child help for their addiction, before they become one of the nearly four overdose deaths per day in this province. The opioid crisis in B.C. was declared a public health emergency more than two years ago, but still drug users are dying at an alarming rate.
More than 700 people have died from drug overdoses in the province so far this year, and nearly 1,500 died last year. Laurel doesn't want Mckenna to be another statistic.
She knows Mckenna is breaching her probation order for serious offences and wants their help getting her back into prison, knowing that's a far better alternative. Laurel says she’s tried contacting the probation office in Penticton several times to get them to enforce Mckenna’s conditions, but claims they told her they don’t want to criminalize her addiction.
“(I’ve called) probably three times in the last couple weeks and then also had messages go unreturned,” Laurel says. “I even phoned back saying ‘possibly you misunderstood me, maybe you think I’m a heartless mom and that I just want my kid locked up, but I really just would like you to please help her because I know you can’.”
Mckenna has spent time in prison before, and Laurel says that was the driving force behind a roughly 18-month sobriety period. After Mckenna was released from prison, she went into a months-long rehabilitation facility where she got clean from her heroin addiction. Laurel says she doesn’t want her daughter to keep living this life, and if having her locked up will fast-track her road to sobriety again, she’s willing to try it.
“I know I’m going to get judged by this, and I said to (my husband) Troy that I’m not letting anyone judge me until they’ve pounded on crack shack doors, and until they have given up their financial well-being, have put every family member’s needs beneath the addict’s,” Laurel says. “Then someone can judge me. Until then, I don’t care what you think of me. I’m going to help my kid and if you think I’m an asshole then good for you.”
Mckenna spent time in prison for a violent offence — specifically stabbing someone. Laurel says Mckenna was in an abusive relationship and at the time of the stabbing thought her life was in danger. But she’s concerned if Mckenna doesn’t get help or get arrested, her addiction could continue to spiral and she or someone else could end up hurt, or worse.
In an email statement to iNFOnews.ca, B.C. Corrections says it can’t comment on specific cases, but adds probation officers supervise their clients to ensure offenders are complying with their terms.
“For clients who have a court-ordered condition to participate in counselling or programming as directed by the probation officer, B.C. Corrections will work closely with service providers in the community to connect offenders with resources, based on their individual circumstances and court orders,” the statement reads.
In addition to that, B.C. Corrections says staff deliver substance abuse management programming to help offenders “identify destructive thinking patterns and set goals for recovery.”
In an ideal world, Laurel wants to see Mckenna’s probation officer enforce her stay at a rehabilitation facility, and believes probation has the best avenues to get people the help they need.
But Interior Health mental health and substance use manager for Kamloops, Tara Mochizuki, tells iNFOnews.ca that success rates aren’t high for people who come from an entrenched addiction, straight into inpatient treatment.
“I have the utmost empathy for this mom, because it’s incredibly difficult to care for somebody who has an addictions issue,” Mochizuki says. “We can’t force them into treatment, we have to wait for a state of readiness… Things don’t happen today and often it’s not best practice for things to happen today.”
That’s because inpatient treatment is geared toward people who are working toward managing their substance abuse issues, Mochizuki says, adding that if someone hasn’t put the work in beforehand to try and manage their addiction, they likely won’t be ready to work proficiently in a group setting and follow all rules.
Places like the Martin Street Outreach Centre in Penticton are specifically geared toward people suffering from mental health or substance abuse issues who can’t or won’t access traditional services. Mochizuki says centres like Martin Street are an important step for addicts wanting to get clean.
Interior Health also offers intensive case management services, which includes reaching out to vulnerable people and offering them resources to get help. Mochizuki says she wants the case management team to work with Laurel and Mckenna to try and find her the best help possible.
“I don’t think that there’s a clear path unfortunately. I wish it was just something I could say ‘here’s what you can do in every situation’,” Mochizuki says. “I think a variety of things work and you need to keep committed to trying, and trying, and trying again because relapse is a part of every recovery process… That is incredibly difficult and for a parent even more so because you feel helpless and hopeless.”
Laurel says she has been in contact with Interior Health and everything is waiting for Mckenna at Martin Street Outreach Centre, it’s just a matter of her choosing to go and get help.
The problem Laurel has faced since Mckenna relapsed and went to Penticton in February is enforcing a form of help. As Mochizuki points out, there’s no treatment facility that will hold someone against their will in order to get them clean. That’s why Laurel has been relying on probation to order Mckenna to access certain resources or counselling programs.
Mckenna’s addiction to drugs began at 14 years old, Laurel says, when her drug of choice was cocaine. She adds that she and her husband feel like they got much more support when she was a youth addict and the system was easier to navigate back then.
Laurel says they were even able to help other parents of teens navigate the best way to get their kids help. Now she hopes by speaking out about her family’s situation, it’ll help other parents in some way.
“You can help so many other people, even if you can't help your own kid. That’s (messed) up but that’s the way it is,” Laurel says. “Even if this doesn’t lead to probation acting… if it makes other people talk about it and other parents go ‘yeah I have a kid that’s an addict... They can message me and I’ll tell them everything I know.”
For now, Laurel is continuing to be in contact with the Penticton RCMP and probation office to try and either get Mckenna the help she needs, or get her arrested for breaching her probation.
“That’s my only way that I can help her that I see at this point, besides a full drive to Penticton, drag her off the streets and hope she doesn’t punch me in the face,” Laurel says. “I can’t fight, I just had surgery from my knee, my shoulder’s paralyzed. I can’t hold her down. So that’s it. Probation locks her up, she dies, or she sees the light.”
Laurel texts Mckenna every day to ask if she can come pick her up. So far the answer is still no, but Laurel hopes one day her and her husband will look back on this and be thankful they never gave up.
"If Mckenna sees this, please go to the Martin Street clinic in Penticton or let me pick you up. She’s going to hate me for this story. She will. But I take that, I take it willingly. Hate me. As long as you get healthy you can hate me. But one day you won't."
For a list of resources for mental health and subtance abuse in the Interior Health Authority, go here.
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