The following letter was sent from Randy Hawes, Liberal MLA for Abbotsford-Mission, to Province columnist Jon Ferry. The highlighting is mine.
Thank you for your article. I apologize for the length of my e-mail;
however, as this is an issue close to the heart of a number of MLAs, I thought
you should know what we have been doing.
Last year a small MLA committee was formed in frustration over the
continuing reliance by health authorities to employ their ‘harm reduction’
model of ‘best practice’ which immediately treats all opiate addictions with
methadone. The committee was formed without input from the Premier’s office or
cabinet out of frustration that huge funds are being expended on addictions
treatment without any apparent success.
We began by asking a series of questions of the health authorities
through the Minister’s office. We wanted to know wait times for detox and
residential treatment; where funded treatment is available and how many funded
beds; how much is spent on addictions versus mental health; and what tracking
systems are employed to measure success for the funds expended. The answers
were evasive and many questions were ignored.
We found that wait times are sufficiently significant as to indicate
that addicts presenting for treatment do not get that treatment when
appropriate. It is well known that when an addict is ready for treatment the
response must be immediate or the opportunity may be lost. Clearly the health
system is not responding on a timely basis.
that funded residential beds are almost exclusively for harm reduction
(methadone) patients. Treatment and recovery facilities operating on an
abstinence basis appear to be philosophically rejected for funding. Abstinence residential beds either for profit private pay centers
or non-profit society operated with patient social assistance payment,
community fund raising, and in some cases a small “top-up” from the Social
Development Ministry to about 30 dollars daily.
We also found that there appears to be no tracking of patients leaving
health funded treatment. This of course means there is no way to determine how
successful the ‘best practice harm reduction’ model is performing. Without any
registry system or follow up addicts can leave one funded treatment regime and
go into another a few weeks later and there is no way of knowing that they have
relapsed. That translates to a lack of accountability for the funds expended.
To get a feel for addiction services in the Province, we visited
treatment facilities in various regions. The story was consistent throughout. Non-funded abstinence based facilities
struggled with finances but enjoyed significant success. Funded facilities were
reluctant to discuss their core beliefs but clearly many were not supportive of
the ‘harm reduction’ model. They spoke of threatened funding loss by the health
authorities should they speak publicly in non-support of the methadone program.
We spoke to some abstinence based service providers who said they at
times got patients from the health funded programs who, as part of the harm
reduction model, had been administered a variety of drugs in addition to
methadone for anxiety or depression issues.
There was a very clear difference in outlet procedures between the
funded and non-funded facilities. The health funded facilities had a specific
number of residential days allotted to each bed. Generally these were a maximum
of a 60 day stay. The non-funded abstinence based facilities generally had a 90
day and up patient stay but in most cases this would be extended if the patient
was not strong enough to continue in recovery outside.
We visited the Welcome Home
facility in Surrey which is an absolutely astounding abstinence based program.
Residents come for a minimum 2 years, learn interpersonal skills, work skills,
and life skills. They work in the PricePro store in Surrey as part of the
program. All are required to discontinue any social assistance payments they
might have been receiving. Welcome Home has a very high success
rate and receives no support of any kind from the Fraser Health Authority. We
were informed that Welcome Home had offered to assist Fraser Health in
shortening its wait list for treatment by taking any addicts that preferred the
abstinence model. We were told that
Fraser Health absolutely refused to refer anyone for treatment as they had a
philosophical bias against the abstinence model.
We also visited Portage at the
Crossing in Keremeos. It is a residential treatment facility for children.
Portage does receive funding from Coastal and Fraser Health Authorities for 42
beds. They are one of the only abstinence based programs we could find that was
funded by health authorities. We were in
receipt of a memo from Coastal Health Authority outlining a plan to cease
funding Portage as they claimed that community based treatment was more
effective for children and youth. When
we visited there were only 18 of over 60 total beds filled and Coastal claimed
there was no demand for the remaining funded beds. We were informed that
Portage had been instructed that they were not to advertise their youth service
and intake was to be through the health authority screening system. We learned
that the screening process was multi-stepped and took considerable time. There
was a belief that this was deliberately done to avoid placement thus making the
case for funding cessation.
now been a new contract let with Portage that assures it remains open and we
believe it is as a result of pressure from several MLAs.
Ministry and the health authorities continue to claim that they support a
variety of treatment modalities including abstinence however all of the evidence
at the ground level shows this to be not the case. Abstinence based programs
are clearly not part of the current best practice definition employed by the
health authorities and as a result, funding for treatment in an abstinence
modality is not provided.
is apparent to those who look outside the verbiage provided through the health
authorities that addictions treatment in British Columbia is failing and there
is little or no accountability for the funding provided for that treatment.
The UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs is meeting in Vienna this week to recommend measures to combat the world drug problem.
in Vancouver, the war against illegal drugs appears to have been won
already by those who favour "harm reduction," with its publicly funded
crackpipe kits, safe-injection rooms and "free" heroin and methadone
This does little more than apply a Band-Aid — as opposed to
abstinence-based treatment, which actually gets people off drugs but is
frowned upon by the politically correct powers-that-be.
current mantra among grant-hungry activists, medical researchers and
politicians is to feed the need, not starve it — which is why as many
addicts as ever roam Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.
think abstinence may well be making a comeback. And I'm heartened to see
two celebs, one local and one international, giving it a new cachet.
British comedian Russell Brand, songstress Katy Perry's ex, said in Britain's Spectator
magazine that he believes in abstinence-based programs in helping
addicts/alcoholics stay clean and sober. He also wrote eloquently of his
addict friend, singer Amy Winehouse.
"What was so painful about
Amy Winehouse's death is that I know that there is something I could
have done. I could have passed on to her the solution that was freely
given to me. Don't pick up a drink or drug, one day at a time," he said.
"It sounds so simple, it actually is simple, but it isn't easy — it
requires incredible support and fastidious structuring."
says that, without a structured recovery program, he'd still be taking
drugs. "Because even now the condition persists," he noted. "Drugs and
alcohol are not my problem — reality is my problem. Drugs and alcohol
are my solution."
The local celebrity is David Berner, former
actor, former Province columnist and current public-affairs host on Shaw
Berner has just published All the Way Home,
a must-read book about how in 1967 he started Canada's first
residential treatment centre for drug addicts and alcoholics in
Vancouver — and how, based in Winnipeg, it continues to turn out
sober/clean citizens to this day.
Berner is a natural storyteller.
And it's the ex-cons and other colourful characters he describes that
make the book a page-turner.
But he also disses harm reduction and
says he doesn't believe addiction should be treated as a disease
requiring ongoing treatment by high-priced doctors and nurses.
really needed, he says, are recovery centres run by ex-addicts, social
workers and psychologists at a fifth of the taxpayer cost ($50,000 as
opposed to $250,000 a year).
"Addictions, properly understood, are an emotional, psychological, social, behavioural and spiritual problem," he noted.
and Brand are both witty, accomplished guys with a wealth of addiction
experience. Governments in B.C. should listen to them.
rates for abstinence programs may not be high (never much more than 50
per cent), but they do help scores of addicts become drug-free. Keeping
them on drugs, as the harm-reduction theorists advocate, simply keeps
Rather than overpay for two recently rented houses, the
executive director of a local addiction recovery service decided to
move into a North Delta hotel.
Rooms would be rented on an as-needed basis, he concluded.
In the first week of February, VisionQuest Recovery Society
rented the third floor of the North Delta Inn, where its clients, 20
recovering addicts under court order to get clean, proceeded to also
clean up the hotel.
With permission from hotel management, VisionQuest
cleaned the walls, tore out old carpets, replaced dirty mattresses and
fixed leaking pipes.
They also brought in their own furniture.
Just weeks in, the society is being evicted, despite
its best intentions – and a justice system-supported reputation for
turning around the lives of addicts.
The group must be gone by March 1, according to a
notice by Delta bylaw officials, who cited that hotel space rented to a
recovery society contravened Delta Zoning Bylaw No. 2750.
"They think I'm trying to open up a treatment centre," O'Rourke said. "(But) they hold all the aces."
Mayor Lois Jackson said Delta is just following procedure.
“The real issue here is the property owner failing to
follow an established long-standing rezoning application process,” said
Jackson in a Feb. 26 press release. "This is standard procedure
applicable to all municipalities operating under the Local Government
Act, not just the Corporation of Delta."
She added that at no time did the property owner of the
North Delta Inn or VisionQuest contact the municipality to discuss
permitted uses and their proposed occupancy, and that in principle, she
has no problem with VisionQuest operating in Delta if it complies with
Photo: Jim O'Rourke at the North Delta Inn.
O'Rourke was informed by his lawyer on Wednesday that a
judge has rejected VisionQuest's appeal against the eviction, and that
Delta bylaw officers will be on scene on Friday to carry out the
Formed in 1995, VisionQuest currently runs 10 recovery
homes in Surrey, Langley and Abbotsford. The non-profit society's motto
is "crime prevention through rehabilitation," and it takes a
no-nonsense, cold-turkey approach to addiction treatment.
The program is 90 days, although clients are not forced to leave afterwards.
"If they don't have a place to go that's not solid for
them… a lot of these guys don't have homes to go back to," said drug and
alcohol counsellor Frank Degenstien. "If they've got somewhere to come,
they're not doing crimes on the street."
The clients are prolific offenders, and have been
ordered by judges and prosecutors to take the VisionQuest program – the
alternative is prison, they're told.
"The Crown and prosecutors know the reputation we have,
that if they decide to bolt, we file the report immediately," said
Degenstien. "The judges, they trust VisionQuest."
O'Rourke admits it's difficult to get public support
and donations for his society because clients are "convicts and they've
broken lots of laws."
But he said recovery is a major part of crime prevention.
He keeps his cellphone on at all times, for calls from
addicts' family members, who more than once have stated: "He's a good
"They all are when they're not using dope."
For more information or to help with space, call Jim O'Rourke at 604-537-4401, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.visionquestsociety.org