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People seeking detox treatment face weeks-long waits

Detox is a process which safely manages withdrawal symptoms when someone stops taking drugs or alcohol
Cheryl Diebel, director of New Roads Therapeutic Recovery Community, with her dog Farley in the 'Work as Therapy' greenhouse at the centre. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Long waits for detox beds on south Vancouver Island are frustrating the attempts of addiction recovery workers to get people with substance-abuse problems the help they need when they want it.

“The waits are long and it’s quite the bottleneck,” said Jordan Cooper, director of services for Our Place Society. “We have people coming into our community centre seeking treatment and most require detox before they can go into recovery. We’ve heard of wait times of 100-plus days for detox.”

In an emailed statement, however, Island Health said the waitlist for a medical detox bed is approximately five weeks. There are 21 medical detox beds on the south Island and none are currently closed due to staffing issues, the statement said.

Still, Cooper insists people are waiting too long to get into detox, the process which safely manages withdrawal symptoms when someone stops taking drugs or alcohol. ­Medications used in detox help keep former users comfortable while the drugs leave their body.

“With people with active addiction or who are unhoused, you want to capture them in those moments when they are seeking treatment or detox. It’s very difficult and very frustrating, said Cooper.

People can become discouraged and it’s tough on the staff who want to help but find their hands are tied, he said.

“With the overdose crisis, every time they use, they are taking their life in their hands,” said Cooper.

Last week, Christopher Schwede, a 49-year-old Victoria man, died of a suspected drug overdose in his tent on Pandora Avenue. His grieving sisters said they had tried to get him into detox and there was nothing available. As they stood on the street outside his tent, an outreach worker told Candice Csaky and Tammy Trausch the wait for a detox bed was 111 days.

Both Cooper and Cheryl Diebel, director of New Roads Therapeutic Recovery Community, have been told that a number of detox beds had been closed due to staffing shortages. For the past two years, Diebel has consistently heard that the waiting list has been anywhere from 150 to 200 at any given time.

“In a perfect world, someone who wanted to have treatment could walk into detox that day,” she said.

The residential treatment facility run by Our Place and housed in the former youth detention centre in View Royal is helping 30 men in recovery right now, but has room for 40, said Diebel. Most of the men who come to live at New Roads require detox.

“One of the things that’s always a struggle is the lifestyle of ebbs and flows many of these folks lead,” she said. “You may have someone who is really committed today to go into treatment. However, if you need to get them into detox and through detox, they may not be committed by the time you get them through those processes.”

Men who are accepted into the New Roads program are often fast-tracked through detox.

“We’re really lucky that way. Downtown detox works really well with us with the capacity they have. I really appreciate what they do for us. But at the same time, if a person is out there and wants to go to detox and isn’t accepted into a program, they’re going to be waiting a long time.”

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