A growing drug problem in the region has prompted the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre to develop an early intervention service for youth addicted to painkillers.
The outpatient service was launched in early January and was discussed in detail on Jan. 21 at a public meeting in Manotick, where Ottawa’s fentanyl abuse problem first became apparent last summer.
Fentanyl is a strong prescription opioid used to treat chronic pain, and comes in the form of patches which are worn on the skin. It is becoming an experimental drug of choice for many youth in the area, but unlike drugs like marijuana and alcohol, it is highly addictive even after just one use.
This has left otherwise good kids hooked on the patch and committing crimes to feed their habit.
“It can happen to any kid,” said Beverly Clark, a former Manotick resident whose son was one of several students kicked out of St. Mark Catholic High School because of his fentanyl addiction. “They don’t have to be bad kids.”
Last August, the problem became painfully apparent when Tyler Campbell, a 17-year-old Manotick student, overdosed and died. Police began to connect a rash of break-ins to a small group of addicted teenagers and youths in the village.
A town hall meeting was called in November to address the issue, which was widely publicized. Police have since identified other fentanyl hot spots across the city, including in Orleans, according to Ottawa police Staff Sgt. Kal Ghadban.
Now, the Royal Ottawa has responded with the regional opioid intervention service in an effort to help youth and early users get off the drugs quickly.
Program developer Dr. Melanie Willows said more and more youth are admitting themselves to the hospital with opioid addictions, but the wait time for the hospital’s small detox unit is “unacceptably long.”
“Thinking of someone who has only been using opioids for three months waiting another four to six months to get help didn’t make a lot of sense,” she told a crowd of about 50 people at the Jan. 21 meeting.
The new intervention service is an outpatient program geared to youths under 30 and to people who have been using for fewer than five years. It currently operates from the Royal on Carling Avenue near Merivale Road, but the hospital has partnered with other hospitals, community health services, mental health and addiction agencies and primary care physicians across the region to make sure youth can continue to access counselling, treatment and support in their own community after the initial three-week detox program is complete.
“The idea is we all share the care of the patient to offer the full spectrum of what can be provided to them,” said Dr. Kim Corace, who worked with Willows to develop the program.
The program is unique, Corace said, because it focuses on “concurrent treatment” of the addiction as well as any mental health issues the patient might have.
There is a high correlation between substance abuse and mental health issues, she said; between 40 and 70 per cent of all substance abusers suffer from a mental health issue, usually an anxiety or mood disorder like depression.
Corace said the key to successfully kicking substance abuse is addressing the problems that contributed to it.
“If you don’t address the underlying issues that come with the addiction, there’s more risk of a relapse because those reasons that led you to the addiction in the first place are still there,” Corace said.
The service offers a three-week detox period, during which the patient receives doses of an “opioid agonist” that allows the patient to taper off their addiction.
The client will also build a treatment plan and have access to ongoing counselling.
Every month, the service will host an orientation for addicts and families of addicts who want to get help. If the service is not right for a person, Willows said, the service will help point them in the right direction.
“We’re hoping this is going to mean no more knocking on the wrong door,” she said.
The next orientation session will be held on Feb. 7 for families of youth struggling with an opioid addiction. Addictions counsellors will be available to discuss treatment privately with youth.
Clark knows all too well what fentanyl addiction looks like. Her son was 17 when he tried the drug at a party and was hooked.
In the middle of Grade 12, he was kicked out of St. Mark Catholic High School in Manotick and sent to rehab. Within three weeks, he was living at the Dave Smith Youth Treatment Centre, receiving treatment for his fentanyl addiction.
Eighteen months later and with the help of the rehab centre, he’s clean – but it’s easy for her to imagine a relapse.
“He is straight now but it’s a day-to-day deal,” said Clark.
VALENTINE FOR LIVES
Clark has now organized a fundraiser for the treatment centre, which is one of the partners with the Royal’s new intervention service, and the only non-profit rehab centre in eastern Ontario.
On Feb. 12, the Valentine for Lives murder mystery dinner will offer dinner and entertainment at the Lone Star ranch on Hunt Club Road in south Nepean. The Kemptville Players theatre group will stage the murder mystery and Nepean-Carleton MPP Lisa MacLeod will speak about the drug issue. Tickets are $50 each.
Clark said she is simply hoping to raise money for an organization that stood behind her when the rest of the community seemed to turn its back.
“For my family, Dave Smith was a lifeline,” said Clark, who also received counselling there while her son was recovering. “I don’t know where I’d be without it.”
For more information or to purchase tickets visit ottawapropertypros.com.
For information about the Regional Opioid Intervention Service and its orientation sessions visit www.theroyal.ca.