Kanata group wants to launch on-demand treatment for drug abuse
A parent group that drew attention to an epidemic of opioid abuse in Ottawa’s west end last winter says it has no choice but to go around official channels to launch a treatment and prevention program for drug-addicted youth.
In a public meeting held Thursday in Kanata, We the Parents, headed by executive director Sean O’Leary, outlined plans to raise money for a pilot project to provide treatment for substance abuse and opioid abuse disorder.
The group’s original plan called for $372,500 a year for a minimum of two years for a pilot project based on the SMART Recovery program, which offers support groups for addiction recovery.
A revised plan released Thursday scaled that figure down to just under $290,000 annually, of which 55 per cent is earmarked for staff salaries.
Speakers at Thursday’s meeting included O’Leary, KanataCarleton MP Karen McCrimmon, former Ottawa police chief and current senator Vern White and one-time B.C. health minister Dr. Terry Lake, while Nepean-Carleton MPP Lisa MacLeod was also scheduled to address the roughly 75 people who attended.
White, speaking at length about the need to address the drug addiction problem on multiple fronts, including increased treatment and education, and tougher criminal sentences for manufacturers of illegal drugs and dealers, as well as stronger controls at Canada Border Services Agency, was very well received.
“When you can’t get treatment in days or weeks, but months, that’s not good enough,” he said, referring to wait times at Ottawa’s only two residential drug treatment centres.
“We’re going to see thousands of deaths, and we don’t have a plan. We don’t have a national drug strategy today that deals with this issue today. We don’t have a provincial drug strategy today that deals with this issue today. To be honest, we still have a pop-up tent downtown — we don’t have a municipal strategy today to deal with this today. We need to do something today.”
Lake, meanwhile, drew catcalls from the crowd when he countered some of White’s ideas and suggested the problem was a health issue, not an enforcement one, and recommended safe consumption and harm reduction sites as necessary parts of the solution.
“How long have we had a war on drugs in North America?” he asked. “Forever. And how successful has it been? Not at all. If you want to take the law-and-order approach to this, I guarantee it won’t work.”
Thursday’s meeting was also at times a heated one. One attendee, Andreas Hoeffener, an addiction counsellor who said he favours having addicts committed to treatment, was shouted down by others, including O’Leary, when he suggested that only 20 per cent of addicts actively want treatment, while the other 80 per cent would prefer to be left alone.
O’Leary asked Hoeffener to leave, saying he didn’t want to hear any numbers from Overdose Prevention Ottawa, the group that has opened pop-up injection sites.
A man filming the meeting yelled at Hoeffener to sit down and be quiet, noting it was O’Leary’s event, not his.
“I thought this was a public forum,” Hoeffener said.
O’Leary founded We the Parents after releasing an open letter last February expressing his frustration in getting help for his 16-year-old daughter Paige, who had struggled with addiction for about 20 months.
A public meeting on counterfeit drugs drew almost 200 parents. The group now has 300 members, but the frustration in getting treatment for youth remains, said O’Leary.
Last March, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said Ottawa’s plan to deal with the opioid crisis is a model for the rest of the province and the Ontario government is ready to fund it with $2.5 million.
O’Leary says a number of harm reduction programs have been announced, but there are still few detox options for teens.
“It’s seven months later. Our city has no detox for kids 16 and younger,” he said.
Sen. Vern White addresses a meeting at the Kanata Rec Centre organized by We the Parents, a local group.