A Saanich mother says she’s grateful her teen son was arrested, because when he checks in with his probation officer, she knows he’s alive.
The mother, whose name cannot be used to protect the minor’s privacy, said her son was athletic and a B-student last year, before he began using MDMA and anti-anxiety medication Xanax regularly.
“He is a completely different person now. I’ve lost my son. He’s unrecognizable,” the mother said.
Over the past year, the 17-year-old has been expelled from school, stopped coming home at curfew, bounces between friends’ couches and a shelter and broken into his mother’s house to steal money.
He has been arrested twice — once for assault with a weapon and then again for breaching his conditions, as well as assault and harassment.
He entered a five-day detox program voluntarily, but wouldn’t continue with a residential addiction-recovery facility.
“He is just being set up to continue to breach his conditions,” she said, since there’s no long-term support in place unless he volunteers to participate.
“I know that there’s something more going on with my son and it’s not just drugs. There is an underlying issue … that he’s trying to fix with drugs. He needs full rehab, where he gets counselling … It’s certainly not going to happen unless he’s forced into it. Because at this point, he doesn’t even recognize there’s a problem.”
The mother came forward with her story after reading about a father in the Times Colonist who says parents should have the power to check their children into drug treatment facilities against their will. British Columbia does not allow parents to force their kids into secure care involuntarily.
She said the experience has been isolating for her as a parent. The subject is taboo and it wasn’t until her son was arrested that she found supports through the criminal justice system.
“I just had no clue what to do. I just knew my child wasn’t behaving and grounding wasn’t working. What do you do?”
Angie Hamilton, co-founder and executive director of Ontario-based Families for Addiction Recovery, said stories like that of the Saanich mother are common.
In effect, treatment usually doesn’t happen until a youth has entered the criminal justice system.
Families for Addiction Recovery is advocating for a national strategy on youth addiction treatment.
Whether or not youth can be forced into secure-care against their will depends on which province you live in. In Alberta, parents can get a court order to send their children into mandatory addiction-treatment programs for up to 10 days, with a provision that lets a judge extend that to 15.
Some provinces have a minimum age for medical consent of 14 or 16, which means parents can consent to treatment on the child’s behalf until the child reaches that age.
In British Columbia, consent for health care is based on capacity or maturity, rather than a specific age.
Hamilton said voluntary treatment is preferable, but parents need options if that doesn’t happen.
She said the five- to 15 days of detox that some provinces allow as involuntary treatment doesn’t go far enough. And even when youth volunteer for longer treatment, there are typically long wait lists for facilities.
Hamilton said many parents with the financial means take their kids to the United States, where forced treatment is legal.
“Parents are jurisdiction shopping. And they shouldn’t have to do that to get treatment for their kids. You shouldn’t have to kidnap your kid and bring them to the United States to get treatment,” Hamilton said.
In October, Children and Family Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux said voluntary treatment has been shown to be the most effective and the province had no plans to offer involuntary secure care.
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association has argued that forcing kids into short-term detox sets them up for an overdose when they get out. Policy director Micheal Vonn has said there’s not enough evidence to show the success of involuntary treatment.
Instead, the organization advocates for less-invasive interventions, such as providing drugs to addicts on a prescription basis.